Cadets travel to Tennessee for Mountain Man Memorial March

Isaac Zeigler, second from the right, was part of one of the winning teams.

Mariah Hicks

Kent State Army ROTC cadets traveled to Gatlinburg, Tennessee, to participate in the 11th annual Mountain Man Memorial March from April 13-14.

Every year, marchers and runners from all over the U.S. join together to march in honor of fallen soldiers.

“It’s a marathon march, a combination of running and walking down in Tennessee to represent Gold Star families, which are families that have lost a family member in the service,” said Isaac Zeigler, a sophomore cadet and political science major.

Zeigler was on one of the winning teams this year. Each team marches in honor of a fallen soldier, and his team marched in honor of Senior Airman Michael David Lusk, who passed away five months ago while serving on active duty in the U.S. Air Force.

“I really enjoyed being on the team,” Zeigler said. “It’s always a group of really good, motivated people that are a lot of fun to be with and do something like this with because we all push each other and motivate each other to do our best.”

The event is split into two categories, a march and a run, which are made up of different requirements. Participants are divided into military and civilian groups upon registration.

The teams completed 26.2 miles in distance carrying a 35-pound ruck sack. It took Zeigler’s team 7.5 hours to complete the course.

“At the start it felt pretty good, but toward the end, your legs — and my back especially — started to really hurt,” Zeigler said. “But just being with a group of people that are all feeling the same way really motivates you. As long as they’re going, you want to keep up and don’t want to let anybody down.”

Kent State’s Army ROTC also had a girls’ team compete in the event, which Keirston Spiewak, a freshman cadet and psychology major, was a part of. It was her entire team’s first time competing in the march.

“It was definitely one of the toughest things I’ve ever done in my life, but the scenery was beautiful,” she said. “The mountains were very hard to get up, but there was a lot of motivation all around.”

One of the fallen soldiers Spiewak’s team marched for was Ashley White, a former Kent State Army ROTC cadet who was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2011.

There will be a 5k in honor of White that will take place on April 28. The run is part of the Freedom Run Series, a combination of five races.

At the Mountain Man event, all teams had the opportunity to meet the families of the soldiers they marched for, which Spiewak and Zeigler both described as an emotional interaction, but one they deeply appreciated.

“It meant a lot to me because literally meeting the families the day before and seeing them cheering you on the entire time, it made you not want to stop or give up,” Spiewak said. “One of the guys that we marched for, his mom was saying that he was there and he was going to help us through it, so it was really emotional, but it definitely was a significant impact. The whole community was screaming when you were about to finish, and it just felt good.”

Mariah Hicks is the military and veterans reporter. Contact her at [email protected].