Marines Honor Fallen Brothers At 10th Annual Recon Challenge
by U.S. Marine Cpl. Juan Bustos
July 25, 2018
It was 4:00 a.m.
A cold breeze howled across the Pacific Ocean toward a group of Marines who charged through the sand toward the frigid waves. Before the sun rose, 25 teams dove headfirst into the furious folds of the ocean, as memories of their fallen comrades propelled them forward. Soaked to the bone, focused and determined for the events ahead, the teams continued onward to complete the 10th Annual Reconnaissance or Recon Challenge in May 2018.
1st Lt. T Markoff, left, assistant operations officer, Marine Wing Support Squadron-372, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, and Sgt. Maj. Timothy Riggs, sergeant major MWSS-372, 3rd MAW, kneel in front of a battlefield cross during the 10th Annual Challenge Recon on Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., May 17, 2018. Challenge Recon hosted a total of 16 two-man teams. Each team throughout the event carried a set of dog tags around their neck and an air panel, tied to their packs with the stenciled name of a fallen Marine. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Juan C. Bustos)
“The recon challenge is a series of events across Camp Pendleton. It’s a challenge amongst reconnaissance Marines to commemorate fallen reconnaissance Marines in combat or training scenarios,” said Capt. Jason Retter, operations officer, Reconnaissance Training Company, Advanced Infantry Training Battalion, School of Infantry-West.
The event is comprised of several trials designed to test all aspects of reconnaissance Marine life, including swimming 1,000 yards in open ocean, completing an obstacle course, carrying a casualty 880-meters, conducting close-quarters clearing drills, and finally hiking back to the Reconnaissance Training Center after a total of 25 miles with a 45-pound pack.
“I like a challenge … keeping my mind strong and honoring the fallen Marines that we are running for is a huge part of it,” said Staff Sgt. Martin Schmitt, training chief, 4th Reconnaissance Battalion, 4th Marine Division. “I enjoy challenges, and I enjoy being miserable. It’s fun. I don’t know what it is but I like feeling like that.”
Staff Sgt. Martin Schmitt, training chief, 4th Reconnaissance Battalion, clears an M240B machine gun during the marksmanship portion of the 10th Annual Recon Challenge on Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., May 17, 2018. Marines are expected to be proficient with various weapon systems and are constantly challenged to demonstrate their skills in contests, such as the Recon Challenge. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Juan C. Bustos)
Schmitt competed with Team 6, one of 25, two-man teams participating. He began training for his first challenge three months prior to this year’s event to ensure he was fully prepared. Team 6 competed in honor of Staff Sgt. Caleb M. Medley, a force reconnaissance Marine who passed away during a training accident on February 26, 2013.
“I don’t want Caleb’s memory to fade away,” said Gunnery Sgt. Zachary Holm, operations chief, Echo Company, 4th Reconnaissance Battalion, 4th Marine Division, and the second member of the team. Holm further described his fallen comrade as “a friend, a brother, and the type of person who would give the shirt off his back for anyone.” The two had served together with 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, while deployed in Afghanistan in 2008.
Holm’s fondest memories of Medley are from the days they spent together under the blazing sun in the sands of the Middle East.
“We got into a firefight and besides all the machine guns and rockets and mortars getting shot, there’s Caleb just laughing hysterically on the gun. It was pretty funny,” said Holm, with a smile.
Holm strives to run the challenge each year in honor of Medley.
After a grueling 14 hours, Team 6 crossed the finish line at the Recon Training Company where they were congratulated by fellow reconnaissance Marines and their families. The pair knelt in front of a cross and draped Medley’s dog tags on an M16 service rifle before bowing their heads in prayer.