NTC Soldier masters the Four Days March for seventh time
When much of the National Training Center took a much needed break in July from its normal high tempo training operations, NTC’s chief of protocol, Maj. Demetrius Green, took a different route.
Green flew to Nijmegen, Holland, the Netherlands, to become an Army of One, representing NTC in what Wikipedia calls the “largest marching event in the world.” Green joined 44,000 military and civilian marchers from sixty countries around the world, including military contingents from 34 nations, to march about 25 miles daily for four days, July 16-19, during Vierdaagse (Four Days March).
“It’s essentially like four marathons back to back,” Green said. “It takes about eight and half hours a day. There’s no rush. The military walkers do about 40 kilometers a day, about 25 miles. The civilians do about 50 kilometers a day, about 30 miles.”
All marchers, from all walks of life, march on a different loop of the clover-leaf pattern over four days, into towns and countryside around Nijmegen. The route has changed little from when the march was established in 1916, when a group of military officers introduced the first marches to incorporate physical education into Dutch schools.
It’s not a walk in the woods. “Roughly, a thousand people each day didn’t make it through the day, or were not able to begin the next day’s march,” Green said. “50,314 were registered, about 44,000 actually started, and about 37,000 actually finished the march. For Holland, their normal summer daytime temperature is about 77 degrees. This time it was about 85 degrees. The heat took out a lot of people as well.”
Special rules apply to uniformed marchers who stay at Camp Heumensoord, a military base camp set up for them near Nijmegen. They must wear rucksacks that weigh at least 22 pounds to comply with the special rules for military participants, according to Green.
Green noted that U.S. military marchers don’t come with support teams, like the other military contingents. “Our rucksacks are a lot heavier, because we’re carrying all our support,” Green said.
“I was the Fort Irwin marching team, so I carried all my own support each day. The first day was about 45-50 pounds. The good thing about it was that it was getting lighter each day. You’re eating your way through it. And you’re drinking. You’re carrying your own water supply. It’s needed to stay hydrated.”
Unlike other military marchers, the U.S. military was represented by less than two hundred Soldiers, Airmen, Sailors and Marines. In comparison, Great Britain, the Netherlands and Germany had hundreds of uniformed personnel in dozens of organized units, Green said.
Still, as NTC’s one-man marching team, Green has done well as a goodwill ambassador for his country.
“I remember the first time that I did it, I became known as the cadence caller. From when I was an NCO, I called cadence. The other marchers would say, ‘Hey, come on over and sing some songs.’ The first year I was doing it, I was marching with a German group. I sat down to rest, and a lady asked me in a low voice, ‘Why are you marching with the Germans?’ I said, ‘Well, ma’m, we’re all on the same team now.’ I smiled and gave her a small American flag.’”
Nijmegen is steeped with memories of World War Two, the site of a famous battle depicted in the movie, A Bridge Too Far. The 82nd Division troopers parachuted near Nijmegen in Sept. 1944 as part of Operation Market Garden to do an end run around the Siegfried Line and enter the Ruhr Valley, the heart of the German industrial base.
“The last day, when you’re marching down the main street [of Nijmegen] I was about five kilometers from the finish. There’s a senior citizens home. They all sit outside, all looking for Old Glory to pass by. This year, I was carrying a Fort Irwin flag, but normally I usually try to keep at least about 30 or 40 flags, I will give to them, and they love it. Those are the ones that lived through the Occupation… They look forward to seeing an American flag come by.
Green has enjoyed this Four Days Marches so much, he has done it since 1998, whenever he was not deployed. He first learned about it from his sergeant major when he was a second lieutenant at Fort Bragg with the 1st Infantry Division. His first Four Days Marches in Nijmegen started a year later, out from Fort Irwin, like this year, when he earned his seventh Vierdaages medal.
Why don’t more Americans participate? “Since I’ve been there, even when there were a lot of U.S. Soldiers in Europe, I think the most we ever had at one time was maybe 600, 700?” Green said.
“When I was on the OC team with NTC Operations, I tried talking to guys on the team to go on the March; they looked at me like I was crazy. Most people, when you ask them, ‘Hey, you want to march a hundred miles?’ they’re not very positive. Most soldiers don’t even like to do their quarterly required road march.”
“You have to train up for this one. In this heat [at Fort Irwin], I get up at 2 o’clock in the morning, I’ll ruckmarch until 8 o’clock. I still got to go to work. It makes for some very, very long days. But it’s worth it. It’s not one of those things that you can describe. You just have to experience it.
You’ll either love it and get hooked, or you’ll hate it, you’ll never do it again.
“It’s unfortunate, because every year I’ve done it, they always ask, why don’t more Americans participate? They love us here. We go to a lot of areas we liberated during World War II. They love it. As long as I am physically able, I will always do it.”