By Sgt. First Class Richard Stowell
204th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, Utah Army National Guard
A rainbow appeared west of the hills just as participants started the 10th Annual Sgt. 1st Class James E. Thode Ruck March at Camp Williams, August 19, 2022.
Thode was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2010 while serving with the 1457th Engineer Battalion, Utah National Guard. Each year, the 204th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, headquarters unit to the 1457th, hosts a memorial ruck march in his honor.
“Jim Thode, the namesake of this ruck march, was my platoon sergeant who was killed in Afghanistan while we were doing a counter-IED mission,” said Army Lt. Col. Blake Bingham, commander of the 1457th.
Bingham was the company commander of the 118th Sapper Company, 1457th Engineer Battalion, in 2010 when they deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
“Jim was a phenomenal Soldier. It’s good to gather together as Soldiers and groups of Soldiers because we’re stronger together than we are apart," said Bingham.
More than 100 Soldiers, Airmen, and civilians participated in the event. Some competed, while others, including a handful of young children, did it just for fun.
Tanner Stahl was one of the civilians who competed in the team category.
“I had never heard of Sgt. 1st Class Thode, but the message this morning [from Bingham] was awesome, and it definitely lit a fire under me to run hard today.”
Stahl was invited to join the team by a friend who works out with a member of the 204th MEB.
“It means everything to see these Soldiers and Airmen out rucking for him. As a civilian it’s hard to comprehend it but it’s inspiring to see for sure,” said Stahl.
Competitors wore rucksacks weighing at least 35 pounds. Some put their children in their rucks. Others loaded them up with rocks.
Army Sgt. 1st Class Sarah Hughes, range NCOIC in Utah Training Center, was the first individual competitor across the finish line.
“It’s definitely an honor and a surprise,” she said. “It’s kind of a good reminder to keep your physical self up as well. When you get out there, thirty-five pounds doesn’t seem like a lot, but after a couple of miles, it definitely feels like a lot.”
“It's important to remember why we’re here,” said Hughes. “It’s a big event, and it means a lot that there are so many who want to recognize and think it’s important to show up. It felt good.”
A team from the 130th Engineer Installation Squadron, Utah Air National Guard won the team competition. They were Air Force Master Sgt. Francisco Vasquez, Air Force Master Sgt. Abraham Beh, Tech. Sgt. John Geister, and Air Force Staff Sgt. Donovan Nielson.
Stahl’s team took the civilian honors.
The temperature was unusually cool and the slight rain fell on the ruck marchers during the six-mile march. It started at the 2nd Lt. Scott B. Lundell Readiness Center and took participants into the cantonment area west of Redwood Road. They completed a loop and finished back where they started.
For the participants and organizers alike, it was an opportunity to reflect.
Army 1st Sgt. Aaron Slaughter was the lead organizer this year. He is the first sergeant of Headquarters Support Company in the 204th MEB.
“Unlike a lot of the guys participating today I didn’t know Sgt. 1st Class Thode real well, but this has been a great opportunity,” he said. “When you’re put in charge of something you realize the importance of it for others. So as I’ve planned and organized this, I’ve come to appreciate more the sacrifice that [Thode] made as well as others who have sacrificed.”
“It’s important to remember those fallen comrades and Jim is certainly a Soldier worth remembering,” said Bingham.
The 204th MEB will continue hosting the event for more than just remembering. During the awards ceremony Army Col. Woodrow Miner, commander of the 204th MEB, congratulated the participants and issued a challenge.
“Think of that burden as you took off your ruck. Then think about those you who you served with and those you haven’t reached out to in a while and see if they have a burden that you can help left. That makes us stronger.”
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