CAMP CASEY, South Korea — Most servicemembers shouldn’t need much rest after marching a mile. But the 800 who marched the “Manchu Mile” on Camp Casey during the early morning hours Friday did.
A “Manchu Mile” involves some tricky math: it equates to 25 standard miles, “more or less,” as its tradition’s keepers like to say.
The 2nd Infantry Division’s 2nd Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment “Manchus” began their biannual march Thursday night at the Camp Casey theater, where at least a few soldiers from most 2nd ID units joined them.
The “Manchu Mile” even drew some airmen, a couple of judge advocate lawyers and Brig. Gen. John Johnson, assistant division commander for maneuvers.
Each marcher dressed in battle gear, including helmet, rifle and backpack.
“After Mile 10 you don’t feel anything,” said 2-9’s Sgt. David Bullock, who completed the march last year. “Your feet are already swollen. You’ve probably made up your mind if you’re going to make it.”
Others labeled Mile 20 the toughest of the march, which commemorates the regiment’s 85-mile trek to battle at Tientsin during the 1900 Boxer Rebellion in China.
About 85 percent of marchers usually complete the Manchu Mile, commanders said.
The marchers were scheduled to take two breaks. Pfc. Daniel Ochoa, of 2-9, sometimes wishes they didn’t have breaks because it’s that much tougher to get the aching joints and muscles moving again.
“When you’re walking, you don’t want to stop,” Ochoa said. “The best part is when you zone out and you’re just there — just keep walking.”
For finishing the march, Ochoa and his fellow soldiers receive distinctive belt buckles — inscribed with “Keep Up The Fire” — authorized for wear while in uniform.
“Go back to the States and show off that belt buckle, and you get a lot of respect,” 2-9’s Pfc. Justin Taylor said. “It does bring a sense of pride that you’re doing something that not many in the Army can say they’ve done.”
Taylor and others checked their gear and set off in groups just as the sun set over Dongducheon’s newly green mountains.
Just before 2-9 commander Lt. Col. Michael Rauhut gave them some encouragement — after all, he said, “It’s just a mile.”
To see historic samples of the Manchu Mile belt buckle, visit http://www.manchu.org/linage/buckle.