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Cpl. Kim Son-ho, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, U.S. Army Garrison Yongsan, squints through glasses that have steamed over during the frigid morning hours of the Bataan Memorial Death March qualifier Saturday at Camp Casey.

Cpl. Kim Son-ho, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, U.S. Army Garrison Yongsan, squints through glasses that have steamed over during the frigid morning hours of the Bataan Memorial Death March qualifier Saturday at Camp Casey. (Jimmy Norris / S&S)

Cpl. Kim Son-ho, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, U.S. Army Garrison Yongsan, squints through glasses that have steamed over during the frigid morning hours of the Bataan Memorial Death March qualifier Saturday at Camp Casey.

Cpl. Kim Son-ho, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, U.S. Army Garrison Yongsan, squints through glasses that have steamed over during the frigid morning hours of the Bataan Memorial Death March qualifier Saturday at Camp Casey. (Jimmy Norris / S&S)

More than 200 soldiers from bases throughout South Korea sprint from the starting line of the Bataan Memorial Death March qualifier Saturday at Camp Casey.

More than 200 soldiers from bases throughout South Korea sprint from the starting line of the Bataan Memorial Death March qualifier Saturday at Camp Casey. (Jimmy Norris / S&S)

CAMP CASEY, South Korea — A marathon runner from the 524th Military Intelligence Battalion took first place at the 9th annual Bataan Memorial Death March qualifier Saturday at Camp Casey.

Capt. Alex Pagon soundly beat 205 other U.S. soldiers stationed throughout South Korea to take the top slot and become the first of the year’s qualifiers for the Bataan Memorial Death March on March 29 at White Sands, N.M.

The first five individual men, the top men’s team and the first five women to complete the 13.1-mile ruck march across camps Casey and Hovey qualified for a free trip to the New Mexico event.

The annual Bataan Memorial Death March in New Mexico is sponsored by morale, welfare and recreation officials at White Sands Missile Range in honor of World War II servicemembers who defended the Philippine Islands.

Soldiers here Saturday had to wear a 35-pound ruck sack while marching up and down steep hills in frigid temperatures.

"It doesn’t have to be fun to be fun," Pagon said about what motivated him to enter the march. "It’s an opportunity to prove to yourself you can take on big challenges and succeed."

Pagon beat his closest competitor by almost 15 minutes with a time of one hour and 48 minutes.

While he finished far ahead of the competition, Pagon didn’t start out at the front of the pack, pacing himself while many of those who sprinted at the start became exhausted and fell back. Pagon said it’s a common mistake among young runners.

"I didn’t expect to be in the lead by the third mile," he said. "I expected to be six or seven miles into the march before the marathon training kicked in."

Like Pagon, fifth-place finisher 2nd Lt. Michael Mann, 1st Battalion, 72nd Armor Regiment, didn’t start out among the race leaders.

"We weren’t in the top five at first, but my friend (fourth-place finisher 1st Lt. James Shaffer, 1st Battalion, 72nd Armor Regiment) and I met up, and we motivated each other to push it out," Mann said.

According to 8th Army sports director Tom Higgins, Korea’s Bataan Death March teams have a history of success at White Sands, with four men’s winners, five women’s winners and six winning teams over the last nine years.

U.S. Army Garrison Red Cloud sports director Randy Behr said Camp Casey is the only garrison worldwide to hold a qualifier for the New Mexico march.


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