PICATINNY ARSENAL, N.J. - Picatinny has been long-known for its elite precision in the field of research and development of ammunition and weapons systems, leading the United States military into the future with leaps and bounds.
However, in the past two years, Picatinny has also made significant strides in another direction; a completely different take on pride of self and belonging.
Last year 50-year old Ron Wally, deputy director of the Explosive Ordnance Disposal Unit here earned a spot in the World Ironman Competition finals in Hawaii.
Then Master Sgt. Paul Wilcock the Senior Noncommissioned Officer for Project Manager Soldier Weapons here, entered the
"Longest Day" ride. Without any prior cycling experience, he biked a 212 mile journey beginning at dawn in Port Jervis, N.Y,. and ending in Cape May, N.J., by dusk.
If that were not enough, Wilcock paired with another athletic juggernaut, Lt. Col. John P. Stack, Picatinny Garrison Commander, and others to participate in a cardiovascular bender that included the Army ten-miler and the New York City Marathon.
However, 26.2 miles running through NYC was still not enough to fuel their desire for challenge.
Wilcock then enlisted the help of several fellow Soldiers, all who have a tie to Picatinny, to compete in the Bataan Death March, the most rigorous event to date.
The Bataan Death March held at White Sands Missile Range in White Sands, N.M., March 21, is in its 21st year recognizing a special group of World War II heroes that suffered brutality beyond that of which anyone can fathom.
Fighting in a malaria-infested region with very little rations or medical assistance, tens of thousands of American and Filipino service members were surrendered to Japanese forces.
The group was forced to march for days in the scorching heat of the Philippine jungle resulting in the death of thousands of the troops.
In 1989, the New Mexico State University Reserve Officers' Training Corps, or ROTC, began sponsoring the Bataan memorial march in honor of the New Mexico National Guard, one of the groups that suffered at the hands of the Japanese.
A record setting 5704 participants competed in the event this year, which began with an opening ceremony starting before sunrise in the frigid desert air.
Twenty-two of the original surviving marchers attended the event, bringing a tear to nearly every eye and adding more fuel to the burning desire to compete.
Marchers come to this memorial event for many reasons - personal challenge, the spirit of competition or to foster spirit de corps in their unit. Some march in honor of a family member of particular veteran who was in the Bataan Death March or was taken prisoner of war by the Japanese in the Philippines.
"The opportunity to be a part of a remembrance of the Soldiers who sacrificed their lives in Bataan for their country is a true honor," Stack said.
"I did this march to challenge myself, enjoy camaraderie, build awareness about Bataan, raise money for Army Emergency Relief and represent Picatinny Arsenal," Wilcock said.
Team Picatinny was comprised of both Stack and Wilcock along with Michael Bozzelli, former staff sergeant with the 1/75 Ranger Battalion and current Chenega Security Officer here, Staff Sgt. Christopher Barnes who will be assigned to Project Manager Soldier Weapons here next month, and Staff Sgt. Shanna McKinnon, a drill sergeant that participated in Picatinny's first Noncommissioned Officer Induction Ceremony last April.
Having never practiced together as a complete team, the four male, one female team entered into the military heavy co-ed division, which requires the team to complete the march in full uniform while carrying a rucksack weighing no less than 35 pounds from start the finish.
The equivalent length of the New York City Marathon, this 26.2 mile course requires participants to run or march through sand and up steep snow covered mountains.
While there are several different categories marchers can enter, Team Picatinny chose the one that would give them the most difficulty.
Wearing timing chips attached to their boots, Team Picatinny was required to cross every check point with no more than a 20 second gap in time.
With an elevation of nearly 5,300 feet Barnes, who crossed the finish line seconds ahead of his team members, said the hilly mountain they had to climb seemed like it would never end.
"There was just no end in sight," he said as he took his bloodied socks off his feet.
"I'm going to lose these toenails," he said as he grimaced in pain.
One cannot help but wonder what pain the wounded warriors who completed the march must have gone through. Twenty-nine wounded warriors from Walter Reed and Brooke Army Medical Center, including an amputee and double amputee warriors, cross the finish line.
Wilcock and his team endured the trek by consistently repeating the same five
words, "the legs feed the wolf." Deriving from the movie "Miracle"” about the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team, the saying means
"strong legs will never fail you," Wilcock said.
Overall, Team Picatinny placed 5th in their division completing the course in seven hours, seven minutes.
The event has grown each year since its inception and included participants from all 50 states as well Canada, Brazil and the United Kingdom.
"Master sergeant Wilcock, the team captain, did a fantastic job of selecting, training and leading this five-member team. He did a great job and I am very proud of our team. Great effort for the first time in the Bataan Death march. We will be back next year," Stack said.
Next year's Bataan Death March is scheduled for March 27, 2011.