JACKSONVILLE AIR NATIONAL GUARD, Fla. --
In a test of physical and mental endurance, five Airmen from the 290th Joint Communications Support Squadron successfully completed the Norwegian Ruck March held at MacDill Air Force Base, March 31, 2023.
The 18.6-mile ruck march required participants to carry at least 25 pounds of weight and finish within time limits based on gender and age. Out of the 157 participants to begin the test, just under 100 crossed the finish line in time.
290th JCSS participants included Capt. Kendra Lee, Master Sgt. Christopher Cowgill, Senior Airmen Matthew Spissak, Thomas Parker, and Austin Nadeau – a group aspiring to attend the U.S. Army’s physically-rigorous Airborne School soon. Spissak runs 3-4 miles several times a week to prepare for Airborne school and said he entered the march as a litmus test for his current physical capacity.
“The most challenging aspect was trying to keep the pace and do the math while you’re rucking,” said Spissak, a 290th JCSS radio frequency transmission systems specialist. “I kept trying to figure out how much I needed to run, how much I could walk, and if I needed to stop, how much that going to set me back.”
Additionally, the event pushes its participants’ physical and mental limits by requiring them to complete a duty day immediately following the march.
“I struggled another eight hours after the event and then went home and fell asleep on the couch,” said Cowgill, a 290th Alpha Flight non-commissioned officer in charge.
Cowgill contends that the duty requirement after the ruck march made this event the most grueling he’s endured despite regularly training in CrossFit and competing in long-distance race events.
“I started hurting at about the 12-mile mark, and it got real around the 17-mile mark,” said Cowgill. “When I got to a breaking point where I felt like I wanted to quit, I just told myself, ‘You’re closer to the end than you are the beginning. It’s going to be more effort to quit than to finish out the event, so just keep pushing yourself another step, another mile.’”
Fortunately, the nocturnal setting offset the punishing physical aspect of the march. The race began at midnight, challenging all participants to finish before daybreak. That meant participants, categorized by age and gender, had anywhere from 4 1/2 hours to six hours to claim victory.
Cowgill, along with his Wingmen, finished under their prescribed times.
“I was proud of the fact that I didn’t quit,” he said. “I was proud of the fact that as a 45-year-old man, I’m able to do this. The military has given me a no-quit mentality, and I’m able to live up to that. That brings me a sense of pride.”
The Norwegian Ruck March is sponsored by the Norwegian Embassy Office of the Defense Attaché based in Washington, D.C.
The first march was held in 1915 as a test of marching endurance for soldiers of the Norwegian military. The strategic goal was to swiftly move larger units of troops over a great distance and in a manner that enabled them to be combat ready after a rucksack march. Today’s goal is to revive interest in marching over extended distances among military and civilian personnel.
Spissak and Cowgill both labeled the experience intense and hesitated when asked if they’d participate again.
“As soon as I crossed that line, I could 100 percent tell you that it was a definite no,” said Cowgill. “But with how quickly I was able to recover from it and the experience I had, I no longer say it’s an unequivocal no.”
Spissak took a moment to arrive at the same conclusion.
“The last few miles will make or break someone, but we’ll see [if I participate] next year. I’ll be more prepared next time and figure out a better way to pack my rucksack. But yeah, I’d do it again.”