Marching In A Sea Of Green
by U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Aidan Cooney
February 14, 2020
On a cold, crisp November morning, more than 500 participants set out on an 18.6 mile ruck march from the University of Southern Indiana. Lt. Benjamin McIntyre-Coble, a command duty officer at Coast Guard Sector Los-Angeles Long Beach and student of the Naval War College, was one of those 500.
“For the last year, I’ve been enrolled at the Naval War College taking distance education classes towards my joint professional military education certification,” said Coble. “I was reading somebody’s biography and they were talking about all the awards they had, the German armed forces badge, the British airborne wings and the Norwegian Foot March badge and I think it just spiked my interest a little bit.”
The Norwegian Foot March is an 18.6 mile march in full uniform to include boots and a 25-pound rucksack. Dr. Nils Johansen, a professor at the University of Southern Indiana, who formerly served in the Norwegian Army, brought the event to the school over 18 years ago. The march was created by the Norwegian Armed Forces in 1915 and its purpose is to expose new soldiers to conditions they could expect in the field.
“This is such a far departure from the way the Coast Guard trains,” said Coble. “It certainly gave me an appreciation for not only what the Norwegian Armed Forces do, but also for what the U.S. Army does,” said Coble.
Coble said it is pretty common for members of the Army, Marine Corps and Air Force to participate in these type of events. The services use it as a means of building camaraderie with allied nations.
“I thought to myself, that sounds like a cool thing not a lot of people in the Coast Guard have done so I signed up and got a couple of my coworkers to go with me,” said Coble.
“So at first I was like, ‘No way am I going to pay my own way, march with 25 or 30 pounds on my back for upwards of four or five hours with the potential of not completing it in time,” said Lt. j.g. Coty Hall, a command duty officer at Sector Los Angeles-Long Beach. “It took them about two weeks of convincing me to actually do this and once I decided to do it, I was all in.”
Hall said the motivation really came from a documentary about an individual who ran a triathlon in a different state every day for 50 days. “At the end of the 50 days he was just torn to pieces and he says ‘what are you doing that is difficult for you?’ That for me was kind of like that motivating fire to put underneath my butt. I’ve never done anything this hard before so this would be a cool opportunity to push myself as hard as I knew how and do something in uniform representing the Coast Guard.”
So Coble, along with Lt. Stephen Cresswell, Hall, and Petty Officer Third Class Alejandro Vera, all signed up for the event. In the months leading up to the race, Coble and Hall trained together in the hills of San Pedro, California.
November 2, 2019 - (Left-Right) U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Benjamin McIntyre-Coble, Lt. Stephen Cresswell, Lt. j.g. Coty Hall, and Petty Officer Third Class Alejandro Vera before the start of the Norwegian Foot March in Evansville, Indiana. Of the roughly 500 service members, who participated in the march, these four were the only Coast Guardsmen. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Aidan Cooney)
“I did a lot of training coming up to the event, did a lot of hiking, walking on the roads and hills here in the San Pedro area,” said Coble. “The massive hills in San Pedro were a totally different environment in terms of like the topography than the location of the actual event, which was much flatter with occasional rolling hill.”
“I started practicing here locally. I ended up, unbeknownst to me, carrying almost 45 pounds on my back when I was practicing,” said Hall. “It wasn’t until I was training with Mr. Coble that he pointed out that my bag was almost double the required 25 pounds.”
Not only was the topography of the race different but also the climate too was drastically different. “When we were training in October in San Pedro, it was a comfortable 85 degrees and when we woke up the morning of the race, I remember it was freezing cold,” said Coble.
It wasn’t until that cold morning of the race that they were certain they were the only four Coast Guardsmen participating in the event. “I wasn’t completely shocked to be the only four blue suiters present,” said Hall. “But I was humored when we entered the gym for a safety brief and saw nothing but a sea of green staring back at us.”
Coble also recalled standing out, “I just remember walking into the gym before we kicked off and it was just this sea of green and then four people in blue. People were like ‘who are these guys, what are they doing here?’” Other participants asked the Coast Guardsmen where they were from and why they were participating. Coble responded with “For the same reason you guys are participating. To gain an appreciation for what an allied nation does as part of their training and also to get a different experience and hopefully get some recognitions that are sort of unique.”
After the safety brief, all the participants made their way to the starting line and waited for the start of the march. “It starts at the campus of the University of Southern Indiana, which is in Evansville, Indiana,” said Coble. “Then it snakes through all kinds of, you know, beautiful country roads, cornfields, for 18.6 miles and ends up back at University of Southern Indiana. In order to complete the course in about four and half hours, you have to go at about a 14 minute and 30 second per mile pace,” said Coble.
Coble went on to explain that when you compare that pace to the Coast Guards basic training personal fitness test or boat crew standards, it’s like moving at a “snail’s pace.” Coble said that even though the pace is slower, the fact that you’re in full uniform with a 25 pound rucksack on your back can complicate maintaining that necessary pace.
The march was not an easy task. “My feet were starting to blister under my toes and my legs felt like they were seconds from seizing, cramping from calf to upper quad,” said Hall. “All I could do was stay calm, drink water and try to catch the next person in front of me.”
“We were probably about 20 minutes ahead of schedule throughout the entire thing,” said Coble. “Then probably started slowing down after mile 11. I just remember mile 15 hitting a brick wall and my feet were hurting from just repeatedly taking steps.” Coble said his watch kept track of his steps and that it recorded him taking over 37,000 steps during the march.
Not only was the march a test of the participants physical fortitude but it was test of their mental fortitude as well. “I was very nervous about the end result and if I would be able to pull through it and really worried how we were going to represent the Coast Guard,” said Coble. “I just remember the last three miles just being brutal.”
Despite some dark moments of doubt during the last three miles, Coble and Hall were able to finish the race about 30 seconds apart and 10 minutes before the cut off time. Of the four Coast Guardsmen who participated in the march Coble and Hall were the only Coast Guardsmen to complete the march successfully, the other two unfortunately succumbing to injuries.
November 2, 2019 - Lt. j.g. Coty Hall, a command duty officer at Coast Guard Sector Los Angeles-Long Beach, crosses the finish line of the Norwegian Foot March in Evansville, Indiana. Hall and Lt. Benjamin McIntyre-Coble were the only two Coast Guardsmen to finish the march and earn the Norwegian Foot March Badge. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Aidan Cooney)
Hall said he took pride in receiving the foreign award but more pride in the fact that he finished the event in the prescribed time. Coble was excited to have successfully completed the event but also saw this event as a valuable opportunity for the Coast Guard.
With the increase in global expansion to the arctic, the Coast Guard has seen an increase in its role in the arctic region and the importance of a key partnership with Norway. “I kind of saw this event, this Norwegian Foot March, as an opportunity to maybe sort of explore how the Coast Guards role in the arctic is sort of evolving, obviously Norway is a key arctic partner,” said Coble.
Hall and Coble were also given the opportunity to brief the Honorary Consul of Norway and members of the local Norwegian Seamen's Church in San Pedro on the Coast Guards mission.
“When we briefed the Honorary Consul of Norway and members of the local Norwegian Seamen's Church here in San Pedro, I briefly discussed the Coast Guard's engagements with Norway and other Artic partners by our participation in various forums such as the North Atlantic Coast Guard Forum, the Artic Coast Guard Forum and the Artic Council,” said Hall. “I also pointed out that through joint exercises, operational engagements, and academic partnerships that included joint virtual exercises, we could strengthen alliances, foster communication, share best practices and emerging technologies and gain professional competence in emergency disaster response.”
“It was educational to say the least,” said Hall. “Before this event, I had little knowledge of the Coast Guard's involvement in the Artic, much less how we partnered with other nations such as Norway. To be able to give an educational brief to an Honorary Norwegian Consul and members of the local community with strong ties to Norway on the relationship between our two countries was an experience I won't soon forget.”
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