SINTON – Five days and 100 miles – that’s what the Ruck March is, to finish the last 100 miles fellow soldiers couldn’t and to honor their fallen soldiers.
Five members of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Organization (IAVO) based in Beeville – with chapters in Victoria and Corpus Christi – took off on foot Nov. 16 beginning in Beeville then headed to Berclair, Refugio and Sinton before returning back to where they started Wednesday evening.
The five men making the trek are Luis Pulido, IAVO Beeville commander, George Varra, IAVO vice commander, Andrew Gonzalez, IAVO sergeant-at-arms, Ben Strong, Navy veteran, Talentino Angelosante retired Air Force general, and IAVO Corpus Christi Chapter Commander Zeke Rodriguez.
This is the fourth year Pulido has made this grueling march and in that time, its meaning has never wavered.
“If it didn’t have the reason it did behind, I would not be doing it,” he said. “I do it for Lance Corp. Gregory Stewart who was killed in San Antonio. I served with him in Iraq 13 years ago.”
A Beeville police officer, Stewart was killed in San Antonio by a street gang prospect undergoing initiation. He had stepped into an apparent mugging and tried to stop the crime.
He later died of his wounds while in a hospital there.
“We all have our own stories as to why we march and the people we do it for,” Pulido said.
Another Bee County marcher, Mark Freeman, made it the first day saying, “There was nothing but good company there.
“That made me want to keep going.”
Freeman was diagnosed recently with stage four terminal brain cancer while still in the Marines Military Occupational Schooling
“They can treat it and get me more time,” he said. “It believe they say it is a terminal diagnosis. It means there no cure for it.”
Still, he wanted to march, no matter the distance he could make.
“I marched because it is a good cause that brings awareness to suicide amongst veterans.”
When asked this past Tuesday evening how the march was going, Odem resident and IAVO Commander Rodriguez replied, “So far so good. We started out with five, but now we’re down to four.”
Rodriguez said the hardest part about the march is how easy it is to give up and hop in the van that follows them the entire time.
“Most of us are dedicating this to friends or family that were lost and were service members,” Rodriguez added.
“So it’s hard to want to quit because you feel like you’ll let them down, you know?”
Rodriguez said at the start of the march the men hit the cold weather which made things hard starting out – but not as bad as last year.
“It takes a lot of wear and tear on your body, but a little bit of sacrifice to our bodies is nothing compared to those who sacrificed it all,” he continued.
“It’s just putting our bodies through torture to show our brothers and sisters and their families that we’re still thinking about them.”
Last year, which was Rodriguez’s first Ruck March, his group encountered freezing rain and even some snow during their 100 miles. He said it was rough because you wake up sore from the day before, and it was so cold that his body would be stiff, and it would be hard to even move, much less march, 20 miles for the day.
Rodriguez said that when the 100 miles were done last year his feet were so swollen that he could barely walk. Luckily for him, he takes his week vacation to participate in the march which leaves a little bit of downtime to rest and recuperate.
Talking to Rodriguez after the day’s 20 miles – though sounding physically and mentally tired – his voice didn’t falter when asked why he does the Ruck March and will continue to do it for years to come.
“We just want to remind people of those we lost and that we continue to lose, every day,” he said.
“That’s why we’re here, and that’s why we’re doing this.
Paul Gonzales is the editor at the News of San Patricio and can be reached at 361-364-1270 or at mathisnews@mySouTex.com. Jason Collins, editor of the Bee-Picayune, also contributed to this story. He can be reached at 361-343-5221 or email@example.com.