Veterans and scores of volunteers from both ends of Nevada — and somewhere in between — are remembering almost 7,000 of their fallen comrades from the Global War on Terrorism this month as part of the second annual Operation Battle Born ruck march.
A team representing Truckee Meadows Veterans Club at Truckee Meadows Community College kicks off the ruck sack march from Carson City’s Battle Born Memorial on Friday at 9 a.m., said Felipe Gutierrez, who works with veterans as TMCC’s pre-admission associate. The step-off will include volunteers who are walking to the Sportsman Warehouse in south Carson City before the main group travels down U.S. Highway 395 to Johnson Lane in Douglas County for the first 10-mile leg.
“We would love to see the legislators at our ceremony,” added Donald Stockton, president of the University of Nevada Veterans Alumni Chapter.
Participants will take turns carrying the dog tags, which includes 57 Nevadans who died serving their country since Sept. 11, 2001. Gutierrez said the route will cover 400 miles to the Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Boulder City with a handoff to the UNLV’s Rebel Veterans on Wednesday (May 22) at Tonopah, the halfway point. The Rebel Veterans will carry the dog tags to SNVMC, expecting to arrive in plenty of time for the annual Memorial Day ceremony.
Stockton said last year’s march brought healing to those who participated. He, along with Gutierrez, met with another group of volunteers on Saturday to review the segments they will walk. Stockton said most volunteers will walk 10 miles, but on two nights, preselected volunteers will take turns walking and carrying the dog tags.
“We’ll be doing 213 miles in five days,” Stockton said. “You guys are what’s making it possible.”
Start times for the daylight walkers are Saturday at 6 a.m., and Sunday, Monday and Tuesday at 8 a.m. Stockton said organizers have established staging points beginning with Wellington Station and then including Old Nevada Pizza in Hawthorne, the Veterans of Foreign Wars building and the intersection of U.S. 95 and Nevada State Route 265 east of Coaldale. He added the segment from Wellington to Hawthorne will be over State Route 338 and then east to the Mineral County seat.
“You’ll see sections of Nevada very few people see,” said a grinning Stockton.
Once at Hawthorne, the veterans and volunteers will walk along Highway 95, a route Stockton said will give Operation Battle Born high visibility. For some, the march will be challenging; for others, it may bring back memories of their military service.
“The first time you put on a full backpack, it can be overwhelming,” Stockton pointed out, adding other volunteers will be available to assist walkers in case of emergencies.
Stockton, a former Navy Seabee who was once deployed to Kandahar, Afghanistan, is very passionate about Operation Battle Born.
“We’re bringing ‘memorial’ back into Memorial Day,” he said.
Former Nevada Army National Guard soldier Charleen Lawson of Carson City, who once drilled with 485th Military Police Company formerly of Fallon, is a first-year volunteer and will be marching a 10-mile segment before the group arrives in Tonopah.
“I didn’t do it last year, but I found out about it through outreach at the VA (Veterans Affairs) in Reno,” she said.
Lawson said Operation Battle Born is an honorable way to honor those who served and paid the ultimate sacrifice.
The Nevada Air National Guard is providing a group of marchers. Catherine Grush, executive officer to Brig. Ben William R. Burks, the state’s adjutant general, said it’s important to support and remember their sisters and brothers who served before them.
“We are helping to remember the people who paid the way for us,” she said.
Paul Bright, an aircraft maintenance supervisor, marched last year when the route took walkers past Gabbs, 80 miles southeast of Fallon.
“I thought it was a great event for a good cause,” he said.
Although he didn’t serve in the military, Jake Herringshaw said he’s participating to help Stockton, his brother-in-law.
“I’m walking to pay tribute any way I can,” said the 2004 Churchill County High School graduate. “I will be walking the night leg, 10 miles each night.”
Herringshaw, though, said he’s familiar with military life after growing up in Fallon, home of the Navy’s Naval Aviation Warfighting Development Centre (Top Gun). Additionally, he said his older sister Megan served in the U.S. Navy.