An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

News | June 15, 2010

NORAD team to participate in Nijmegen March

By Staff Sgt. Thomas J. Doscher NORAD and U.S. NORTHCOM Public Affairs

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – – Marching 40 kilometers a day for four straight days might sound like something out of Stephen King’s “The Long Walk,” but for 11 Canadian and U.S. members of the North American Aerospace Defense Command, it’s an honor, a privilege and a challenge.

For the first time, NORAD will field a combined team to the annual “march of the world” in Nijmegen, The Netherlands. The march, which began in 1909 amidst the fervor for health and fitness in The Netherlands, will be held July 20-23 this year.

The march is broken up into four days of marching 40 kilometers per day in a cloverleaf route around the city. People from all over the world fly in to participate, staying in hotels in the city or with host families in Nijmegen.

The event is held, rain or shine, having only been cancelled twice in its history: once halfway through in 2006 due to extreme heat and once before that during World War II. The march holds a special meaning to the members of the Canadian Forces, who send 15 teams of 11 people every year to participate, as Canada’s largest military cemetery in Europe, Groesbeek Cemetary, is in The Netherlands.

“It’s a commemorative event in The Netherlands, and it’s an international event for the Canadian Forces,” said Canadian Navy Lt. Dave Hiscock, Canadian Forces Support Unit Colorado Springs and NORAD Nijmegen 2010 team leader. “It commemorates our legacy and presence in the European theatre.”

To get from Colorado Springs to Nijmegen, however, was not an easy journey. Just getting permission to have a NORAD team required permission from the Canadian Forces leadership, who decide what teams may form. Hiscock said it was only with the efforts of NORAD Deputy Commander, Canadian Lt. Gen. Marcel Duval, that the NORAD members were even allowed to form a team.

“General Duval, who has a flavor for physical fitness, took it upon himself to stick-handle getting NORAD at team,” Hiscock said. “So NORAD getting a team is directly attributable to the efforts and attitude of our General Duval.”

At Duval’s urging, the Canadian Chief of the Air Staff gave permission for NORAD to form a team, and the Canadian Chief of Military Personnel gave special permission to allow the three U.S. members to join and march alongside their Canadian comrades.

Duval, who participated in some of the team’s practice marches, said he was glad to have been able to help the team members form a team that represents the binational command.

“It took a lot of hard work just to get permission to field a NORAD team, and after marching along with them, I know that hard work has been justified,” he said. “This could not have happened without the support of the Chief of the Air Staff, who gave us one of the four Nijmegen teams he is allotted, and the Chief of Military Personnel, who allowed us to include our three American team members, making it a truly bi-national effort in the best tradition of the close relationship our two countries share.”

“The whole NORAD team is representative of NORAD and the bilateral agreement,” Hiscock agreed. “So while the team is Colorado Springs-centric, we have representatives from Elmendorf (Air Force Base, Alaska), Tinker (Air Force Base, Okla.), and Beale (Air Force Base, Calif.), as well as three Americans. The effort was to be seen as being a NORAD team and not just a Canadian NORAD team.”

With the paperwork out of the way and the team established, it was time to train the eight Canadians and three Americans for the hard part, marching 160 kilometers in combat boots and weighted rucksacks. Just because they had a team on paper didn’t mean the hard part was over. They still had to certify.

“Part of the entry requirements is to do a back-to-back 40 kilometer march,” Hiscock explained. “So all members of the team must fly here to take part in that. After successful completion, you can declare a team.”

Training, the St. John’s, Newfoundland, native said, is rather straightforward.

“Training is by the sheer weight of practice,” he said. “There’s only one way to train for walking a prolonged distance and that is by getting the kilometers under your boots. So we start by walking in civilian clothes with boots on, sneakers if they elect, and we walk eight to 12 kilometers for two weeks, three days a week. That assists people with (overcoming) shin-splints, getting their boots right, concerns with their socks, any issues they might have.”

Most Canadian training regiments cover 10 weeks, with the number of kilometers ramping up over time, Hiscock said. “Most teams will do a 20-to-20 back-to-back,” he added. “We just finished doing a 30 and 30, consecutive days. And you just walk.”

Army Col. Mike Curry, NORAD and U.S. Northern Command deputy J-6 and NORAD Nijmegen 2010 team member, said the Canadian training regimen is the best he’s seen, and he has a basis of comparison. The Seattle native marched for one day in the 2006 Nijmegen March until it was cancelled due to the extreme heat. He said he’s much better prepared now than he was then.

“Most of us have walked over 300 miles,” he said. “When you walk those distances, your feet have to get conditioned. They (the Canadians) do this religiously, it’s very organized, and they have a much better training program than I had in Europe. So kudos to Lt. Hiscock for creating the program and getting people on it.”

For Hiscock, who also marched in 2008, the challenges of the march are varied. The biggest challenge, he said, is maintaining the discipline to keep going.

“Kilometer after kilometer, step after step,” he said. “The mental discipline to see it through. It’s a very organic kind of event. It’s almost like a long drive in the car with your family. People will talk, they’ll eat their treats, then they will sleep, wake up quietly and look around. Walking Nijmegen is very similar in that starting off the team is chatty. They’ll sort out personal business, and then we will walk eight kilometers in silence. People will dream about whatever they have to dream about and will look at the countryside. We’ll stop for lunches where people will chat again and then we’ll enter that quiet stage again.”

Hiscock said having calloused feet isn’t enough.

“Many people are not successful in training, not because their feet give up, but because, I believe, their mind gives up,” Hiscock added.

Curry agreed, saying that mental endurance is just as important as the physical.

“No one is fully prepared to hike 25 miles for four days in a row,” Curry said. “Most people will get through one, two, no problem. The third day is the toughest mentally. The third day is just sheer will.”

Curry said another big challenge, particularly for military members, is time management.

“It’s a considerable investment for everybody,” he said. “So we really have to thank our chains of command for allowing us to represent NORAD. And it’s a personal commitment for ourselves. Most of us, hike a couple of times a weekend. Most of us stay at work a little later. A lot of people who dropped off, half their reason was time management.”

The challenges are outweighed, however, by the rewards, Curry said. Among which, he said, was getting the opportunity to learn more about his Canadian team members.

“I’ve learned a whole lot more about Canadians,” he said. “How the Canadian Forces are structured, the culture, and I’m sure they’ve learned about us too. There’s also a military aspect to it. For the military it’s camaraderie. Americans are on a Canadian team, the Canadian team, when we go over there, is supported by the British. We’re all in a military camp together. It’s another example of who teamwork starts, not when you get on the battlefield, but long before.”

Hiscock said the best part of Nijmegen is its inclusiveness.

“Nijmegen is all-inclusive where the common man can get out there and walk and build up the endurance,” he said. “You don’t have to be an athlete, you don’t have to be a marathon runner, you don’t have to be special forces tough. With good boots, good socks and some personal discipline, you can attain the ability to walk 160 kilometer over four days. You can participate.”

Curry said he thankful to the Canadian military leadership for giving him a second chance to participate. He said having to stop part-way through 2006 stung and had always planned to go back and try again. He just didn’t expect it to be while he was still in the military.

“That just goes to show the great relationship NORAD and the Chief of the Defence Staff has,” he said. “I’m very thankful they’re giving this opportunity to do it. It’s phenomenal.”

With the team scheduled to depart Colorado Springs July 16, Hiscock said the NORAD Nijmegen 2010 team is ready.

“In all respects, the team is ready,” he declared. “The discipline is there, the feet strength is there, and the mind strength is there. In a pinch, we could go 50 if we had to.”

Duval said he was proud of the team and was looking forward to seeing them finish the march in July.

“Our combined U.S. and Canadian team has worked hard preparing for this event, and I predict they will perform admirably in the Netherlands,” he said. “The NORAD team under Lt. Hiscock has spent many days preparing for this event, marching out in the streets of Colorado Springs, and we are all quite proud of them and look forward to seeing them finish the march in Nijmegen.”