More than a dozen Marine Raiders are preparing for a 770-mile march to honor the lives of their fallen brothers on the one-year anniversary of a tragic Black Hawk helicopter crash that killed 11 troops off the coast of Florida.
On March 11, 14 critical skills operators and special amphibious reconnaissance corpsmen with Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command will depart Navarre, Florida, and walk 770 miles to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. The group, Marine Raider Memorial March, will complete the 10-day, round-the-clock operation on the one year anniversary of the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter crash that claimed the lives of seven Raiders and four Louisiana Army National Guardsmen.
Staff Sgt. Nate Harris, a critical skills operator who launched the group, said they hope to honor the fallen Marines and their families.
“I don’t want this helicopter tragedy to be the defining moment in their lives, because it wasn’t,” Harris said. “These guys were real people: they were fathers, brothers and sons; they had family and friends; they were successful in the MARSOC community and earned their spot as a Raider.”Brothers in Arms
The Marines completing the long-distance hump, , which Harris began organizing on his personal time the day after the crash, will raise funds for basic supplies along the 770-mile route as well as the Raiders' families.
It will be a grueling journey, Harris said, but one he hopes will bring family members and friends of the perished Marines further along the healing process.
“We’re going to get frustrated, we’re going to lose toenails and get sore spots on our backs, but the physical thing we’re going to be putting ourselves through is nothing compared to the mental pain that these ... families are going to have at every birthday, every Christmas, every March 10,” Harris said.
Along the way they will pass between them the only piece of equipment to survive the crash intact: a paddle belonging to one of the deceased Raiders — until they deliver it to Lt. Col. Craig Wolfenbarger, commander of the 2nd Marine Raider Battalion, home of the fallen Marines.
“We’re going to be carrying it from as close as we can get to the crash site all the way back to Camp Lejeune, signifying bringing them home,” Harris said.
In doing so they also honor the Marine Raiders' heritage. In World War II, when the Raiders were formed to conduct high-speed amphibious landings and surprise raids behind enemy lines throughout the Pacific, each of them was issued a paddle.
That paddle was inscribed and presented to his family upon the Raider’s death.