MARINE CORPS AIR STATION YUMA, Ariz. --
Marines from the Installation Personnel Administration Center at the Marine Corps Air Station in Yuma, Ariz., began training with a predawn 5-mile hike around base Jan. 28, 2010, for the 21st annual Bataan Memorial Death March.
The annual 26.2-mile march, to be held at the White Sands Missile Range, N.M., on March 21, 2010, commemorates the nearly 75,000 Americans and Filipinos forced across the hellacious terrain of the Bataan Peninsula to internment camps by the Japanese during World War II.
The Marines are among at least a dozen from the air station planning to participate this year.
This will mark the second time a group of IPAC Marines have participated in the event. The first was in 2008, when four Marines completed the course in 9 hours, 51 minutes. Members of Marine Wing Support Squadron 371 and Marine Air Control Squadron 1 participated in 2001 and 2005, respectively.
Of 2008’s former four, only Gunnery Sgt. Fred Suniga, staff noncommissioned officer in charge of IPAC’s separations section, is returning for the event.
“There were initially 20 Marines that wanted to do it, now it’s down to about six,” said Suniga.
Participants this year include administration clerks Cpl. Bradrick Russo, Lance Cpl. Jacob Fansler, Lance Cpl. Anthony Scott and Pfc. Shane Fields.
Suniga’s plan to get the Marines into marching shape is a pyramid design in terms of mileage.
“We’re going to start off with 5 miles, then 8 miles, then 10 miles, and increase it until we hit the 26-mile mark,” said Suniga. “Once we hit that, we’ll start decreasing the mileage.”
During the actual march, the Marines will compete in the heavy division and must carry 35-pound packs, minimum. For training purposes, the Marines will practice with 50 pounds, said Suniga.
The training will take the Marines all over Yuma, from Telegraph Pass to the Yuma Proving Ground. The purpose, explained Suniga, is to prepare the Marines for the different terrain they’ll encounter on the march.
“It’s something new,” said Russo of his participation in the memorial march. “There’s a history behind it, a challenge.”
The training regime was revamped from 2008’s strategy.
“We had every intention of running the entire marathon,” said Suniga. “So we ran all over Yuma with 40- or 45-pound packs.”
During the 2008 march the team succumbed to the regions’s thin air, its elevation sometimes surpassing a mile above sea level, and varied terrain.
“I learned my lesson from the last one we did,” said Suniga.
Although winning teams earn prizes, the marathon carries a far more emotional weight than the pressure of success.
“This is not about who finishes first. It’s about remembering what Bataan was about,” said Suniga. “What hits me the most is remembering what those at Bataan went through. We’re going to do this march, just as Marines and service members of the past did it and were able to survive and talk about it today. Marines learn something from that.”