International Four Days Marches: 4 days to ruck 100 miles

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Natasha Stannard
  • 52nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Sweltering heat, direct sunlight, crowds, body aches and blisters.

Eleven Sabers willingly chose to face these elements.

They sought to battle them four days in a row for about 12 hours each day while marching with 20 pounds on their backs.

The 11 members of the 52nd Logistics Readiness Squadron did all this to represent a U.S. Air Force team in the International Four Days Marches in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, July 15-19.

The annual march is the largest of its kind. People have suffered injuries, heatstrokes and even death in previous years, but that didn't stop the 43,000 participants from around the world from attempting to earn a "Golden Cross." The award is given to those who finish all four days of the 100-mile march within the allotted daily time limit of 12 hours.

Because of the known difficulty of this race, the 52nd LRS team began training early.

"We started training in February by filling our rucksacks with the required 20 pound we'll have to march with at the event, and marching about 20 miles," said Staff Sgt. Jason Ermish.

But all that training didn't prepare everyone for the grueling 12-hour days of marching in 90-degree heat as four members got disqualified for various reasons.

On the first day of the march, Tech. Sgt. Joshua Sharp made it to the finish line, but by the time he got there, he knew something was wrong.

"I knew about a mile before the finish line that I was in trouble; I could tell I was dehydrated, but I decided to push through to try and make the deadline so I could compete the next day," said Sharp. "I went to the medical tent and I was standing in line. I fell toward a guy, and he grabbed hold of me along with a couple of medics. It turns out I had a heatstroke. I couldn't react, I couldn't talk, I couldn't do anything but shake."

The medics got Sharp back to a stable condition. He said he's going to try and compete again next year and plans to do more training to prepare his body for the conditions.

While disqualified, he still remained an invaluable member of the team by ensuring everyone was well taken care of and prepared to march on.

"I decided to stay back and support the team as best I can," said Sharp.Sharp ensured the team had enough water at each day they returned to camp. He also filled a small pool with Epsom salts every day, so the marchers could soak their torn-up feet.

Some other team members suffered hardships as well.

Staff Sgt. Codie Kriehn missed a checkpoint when he accompanied a team member to the medical tent and was ready to throw in the towel.

"I wasn't going to march the next day, but saw that my teammate (Senior Airman Ricky Rivers), who also got disqualified, got up to march.," he said. "He inspired me to do the same. I didn't quit that day because he didn't quit. It didn't matter how much pain we were in, we we're both getting each other through another day."

However, after the second day, with their disqualifications, cracked knees and swollen Achilles tendons, they knew it was time to quit before their bodies gave out.

"Once I got back, I couldn't walk right and could barely put any weight on my feet," said Kriehn. "Since I was already disqualified, I knew there was no point in putting my body through more pain."

Kriehn went home to rest until the final day when he came back to support and congratulate his teammates for completing the grueling march.

By the last day, four members remained.

They were in pain, tired and at times ready to quit, but they kept one another going.

"I didn't think I would finish," said Staff Sgt. Robert Dyer, one of the remaining four. "I came here with a lot of doubts, but everyone that went out today came together. It was difficult to keep going because of the pain. It may seem really minor, but blisters really hurt and I've been walking on them for four days straight. But I had to keep going. I had to tell myself not to stop."

Dyer, along with his three remaining teammates Tech. Sgt. Gabriel Louie and Ermish made it to the finish.

(Editor's note: the fourth team member was not available for photos or interview)

Motivation in various forms was the key for them all.

For Dyer, it was his teammates. For Ermish, it was proving his ability to finish the march.

For Louie it was the support of the local crowd.

"That was the most incredible thing I have ever experienced as far as the crowd energy, especially at the finish," said Louie. "People just supported us. They said there were 400,000 people at the finish. And they were there just high-fiving us cheering us on at the end. They didn't even know any of us yet still they supported us to the very end."

Now that the march is done, the four have returned to work with blisters, bruises, backaches and a medal, which Ermish said is a reminder that they could do this. They could power through those grueling four days and most of them plan to do it again.

Listen to team members' personal inputs and experiences at