I leaned against my ruck, untied the laces on my boot, and slowly pulled it off.

The pain was incredible as the boot came off, but a relief at the same time. The cool air washed over my foot and between my toes. The breeze eased the pain. I half felt that if I stared too long at my feet, I might see heat waves boiling off them.

I took my sock off slowly. The way my foot felt, I was sure my feet were torn apart. It was a feeling reinforced by seeing the feet of my team mates. Some had blisters that were bleeding.

I didn’t feel any blood on my socks. I took the socks off and saw my feet were in good shape still. All the years of marathon running and nature hikes had turned the soles of my feet into almost hard leather. Add to that the habit of drinking a shot glass of vinegar a day to toughen them up and a simple march wasn’t going to hut them much..

But none of that did anything to stop them from hurting something awful.

I look at the boots. They were more than holding up and I realized that my choice of boot for the walk was also paying off in a lot of ways.

I rolled up the socks and stuck them in my ruck. I laid a fresh pair out and put my foot powder right next them. Before I put the boots back on, I’d powder my feet, put on the fresh socks, and we, meaning my team and I would start walking again.

We were someplace around the mid point of todays walk. Blisters or no blisters. Blood or no blood. We weren’t stopping. Like the rest of the thousands of marchers around us, we’d suck it up and just keep going.

The boots I did the Nijmegen International March in along with an award I received for having done it.

I closed my eyes for a moment knowing if I stayed like that for too long, I’d fall asleep alongside the road here in Holland. I was dog tired. And I was used to this kind of stuff. I wondered how exhausted everyone else felt.

I let my mind drift back a little.

I reflected on a piece of advice given me by an old soldier. If you want to avoid getting involved in things like this little road march, you do it by not standing out.

But not standing out was almost impossible for me. I was living in Germany at the time and was assigned to the 501st MP Co. in Ansbach, Germany. I didn’t have a life and truthfully, I was living with a lot of anger at that point in my life. Anger and hurt that I kept buried under a punishing life of running no less that ten to fifteen miles a day, working out in the gym like a machine, boxing and cycling.

Years later, I’d see the movie Forrest Gump and see how, after Jenny left him, he ran across America several times. I could understand perfectly. I’d done it after all.

On top of that, I was much older than a lot of the guys who would do this. When I told the folks back home what I was doing they reminded me of that fact and said I should act my age. I guess that meant at the ripe old age of 33, I was supposed to start using a cane and wearing Depends. But I think my answer was a little more diplomatic when I responded with, “I don’t know how to that. I’ve never been this old before!”

Besides, the need to find out if the old dog could still hang with the pups was always front and center in my mind. So dangling this challenge in front of me was something I had to jump at.

Staying un-noticed was impossible. Everyone knew I could handle distances and was in better shape the most of the guys in my company and routinely maxed out my PT test (it’s easy when you’re in good shape and in the Senior Citizen category).

And no one knew that better than our Division Sgt. Major. I liked SGM Caitlin. He’d always treated me well and as a result there was nothing I wouldn’t do for him. So I guess it was kind of inevitable what happened when he came up to me for my inspection.

We were standing Class A inspection for him that day. We were all standing at attention and he was moving up the ranks inspecting each of us.

He came to me and looked me up and down. I knew the drill. He was checking that my shoes were shined perfectly, that every ribbon was in place, and that my hair was cut just right.

“Sgt. Muniz,” he said looking me in the face after a few seconds.

Oh-oh, I thought. He found something wrong.

“Yes, Sgt. Major,” I answered.

“We’re putting together several teams,” he said. “They’ll represent 1st Armored Division at the Nijmegen four day International March in Holland. I’d like you to join the Military Police team we’ll be sending.”

I’d never heard of the Nijmegan March, but when the Division Sgt. Major asks you to do something, you answer, “I’d be happy to do so, Sgt. Major!” And you say it with gusto, even if you don’t know what you’re getting yourself into.

What I was “getting myself into” was an event that had been going on since 1909. The Dutch government felt that people were spending way to much time on their keisters and so they came up with this little nature walk. It’s a four day event and while you can choose a couple of different lengths per day, if you’re military, you’re going for the gusto.

Twenty-five miles a day. Actually, it’s a bit further than that since the starting and finish lines are never in the same place. Sometimes, they’re near by. Other times, their a lot further. Either way, you’re walking to get there and back.

You’re in combat uniform when you do this little nature hike. For MPs, that meant BDUs and the boots we’d wear for garrison duty. The comfortable recruit boots many of used for the field was out. Those boots were old, broken in, and had been wet time and time again. In most cases, they fit our feet like a comfortable second skin. When you got the recruit boot to that stage, they were insanely comfortable.

But no. We’d wear the best boots we had. The majority of the team ended up wearing Cochran’s or Jump Boots. As any woman who wear heels can tell you, nice looking shoes equal a lot of discomfort and pain.

I owned one set of jump boots and hated them. I said not only “no” but “hell no” to those boots. I knew the jump book looked good but it was not made for walking any further than the PX. Since this was Europe, we were allowed to wear the same boot the German military did and those folks know how to make a good boot. The Hermann Survivor is a good all purpose boot. It look good, can take a lot of punishment, and I’d worn them on both field and garrison duty. It gave great support and was easier on the foot and shined up like a mirror.

That boot was probably one of the major reasons I got out of the event with only a few blisters. It would be my ace in the hole.

One of the many places I liked to walk and run.

The other card I dealt myself was by sheer chance. While at 1st MPs, I’d purchased myself a Ranger Ruck. This is larger than the typical Alice Pack that the military issued soldiers back then. It also has a frame. As any hiker can tell you, a frame makes a difference. You can carry a heavier load easier, further, and faster.

I loaded my ruck well. There was a minimum weight limit on your pack and if you didn’t meet it, the refs were more than happy to add a sandbag to it for you. I want to say the minimum weight was 45-lbs but for some reason the number 65 is also in there. Mine weighed in at 60. In addition to rain gear, extra boots, and such, I also carried two one-gallon canteens. As a marathon runner, I knew water was crucial.

The first training walks I did was on my own and I was more interested in making sure the body was up to task before the company started training together. I loaded up my ruck, and wearing shorts, the boots I was going to wear, and taking my camera, I began walking through the towns and countryside around Ansbach.

I walked through miles of German countryside. Bavaria is a stunningly beautiful place and I was able to pause and take lots of pictures while I walked. I recall walking through a charming village I didn’t even know existed. There was a tree in the middle of the village. A nice bench was in the shade. I sat down, opened my ruck and took out the small lunch I’d packed.

One of the many beautiful parts of Bavaria. The road you see in the background is one I’d just walked down. At this point, I was about six miles from my barracks.

I’d get back to my barracks at sundown. I’d have walked for over thirteen hours.

That was one of the last solitary walks I did. Later, those of us who would do the walk began training together.

“Five minutes,” SFC. G called.

His voice snapped me back to here and now.

I sat up and powdered my feet. I used baby powder since it was cheap and soaked up some of the moisture. I then squirted a little powder in the fresh socks and put them on. The cotton fabric started a light buzz of pain. Powder in the boots and then slip them on. Now they really started to hurt. I’d later realize that my feet were a little swollen. I laced up my boots, making sure they were nice and tight. A loose boot was a nice way to really start hurting.

But I wasn’t going to get up.

No. Not yet.

I knew what the first step felt like and I was going to put that much pain off until I had to.

I took a final swig of water and waited out the few extra precious seconds while dreading getting up.


All about the Nijmegen 4 day event