Sky Soldiers Participate In 2016 Tough Ruck

“I think that this event may have saved my life. I was headed down a bad road but thanks to my wife who, along with our Airborne Momma, Leta Carruth, arranged my being there with my buddies I am in a much better place now. I needed the love of my brothers to re ground me and set me right. I know that if there were more small things like this around the country it might do the same for more people.”

- 1SG Shayne “Chuck” Charlesworth


Photos from the event

On Saturday, April 16, 2016 a group of Sky Soldiers, family and friends completed the 2016 Tough Ruck sponsored by Military Friends Foundation in partnership with the Boston Athletic Association and the Boston Marathon, the National Park Service and The Old Manse. The 26.2 mile distance took the men on a route around Concord, MA. Participants were Dave Gavula, his brother, Brian Gavula, Ryan Bell, 1SG Shayne “Chuck” Charlesworth, Robert “Bobby” Colliton, MSG Jeremy Scribner, Matt Bernard, Gregory Card, MSgt Donald Gansberger (a JTAC that supported the Herd in Afghanistan), Greg Card, Seth Miller and Chris Buchanan. Each participant who completed the 26.2 mile ruck march was awarded an official Boston Marathon Medal and an official Boston Marathon Finishers Certificate.

There were many reasons why the men were participating in this event. They were there to honor fallen battle buddies from the Global War on Terror. They were gathering to reconnect and ensure that each other is doing ok. And they were there to raise awareness about Veteran suicide among other groups and individuals who were participating in the ruck. Chris Buchanan, a civilian, asked to join the group and completed the ruck march in honor of his father, Air Force CPT (r) Hubert E Buchanan, who was a prisoner of war in Vietnam from 1966 – 1973. Chris also wanted to support the Veterans who were walking to honor their fallen brothers.

The night prior to the Tough Ruck, several of the Veterans gathered at the home of Sky Soldier Will Tyree to help prepare for the post-race BBQ that he was hosting at his house. “It was a great reunion for all of us since we had not all been together for over 10 years. Lots of hugs and smiles. We all settled back into the normal shit talking that Paratroopers share” said 1SG Charlesworth. From there several of the men moved to a hockey rink where they watched Bobby Colliton lead his team "We Skate for 22" to a win over a local fire department team. Mr. and Mrs. Hines, the parents of 1LT Derek Hines, KIA in Baylough, Afghanistan on Sept 1, 2005 while serving with the 173rd 319th Artillery Regiment, were also in attendance. From there the group went to dinner to plan strategy for the following day’s ruck march. 1SG Charlesworth says, “It was amazing how comfortable we all were together even after all the years apart. It is a bond that I think only men who have shared the same hell can have.”

The men gathered at the Old Manse in Concord, MA, the start and end point of the ruck, at 6:00 am and began the ruck at 7:00 am. All participants were required to finish the 26.2 mile ruck within 9 hours or they would be pulled from the course. They were each carrying rucks with at least 30 pounds of weight in them. Their rucks had yellow streamers attached. Each streamer bore the name of a Fallen Hero. Many of their rucks bore multiple streamers.

“I found the guys from the 173rd Airborne Brigade. Eight guys stood out among the crowd with the 173rd Flag flying high and introduced myself” said Army Veteran Matt Bernard. Bernard joined the group at the invitation of Medal of Honor recipient SSG (r) Ryan Pitts who, at the last minute, was unable to participate. “I fell into a group of guys that knew without even having to say the words, what this meant for each of us. To honor the fallen is a responsibility and we were all equals here embarking on a marathon length event to do just that, honor those who meant something to us!” continued Bernard.

nationalgrid provided the support truck, a driver, water, energy drinks and snacks for the event. The support vehicle driver was Steve Meighan, an Army Veteran from the Cold War Era who recently joined the 173rd Airborne Association as an Associate Member after participating in the 173rd Airborne Brigade Assoc. Foundation charity golf event in 2015 and seeing what the Assoc. Foundation is doing to support Veterans. 1SG Shayne “Chuck” Charlesworth, a 173rd Veteran, was with the group to provide any necessary minor medical treatment.

At about the 10 mile mark the group stopped to change socks, rehydrate, grab a snack and, for a couple of them, to have blister issues addressed. “Everyone was in great spirits and besides a few small blisters on old and out of shape feet everyone was doing well. I was so proud of all the guys as they carried our fallen brothers with them and the BDE colors” said Charlesworth.

Charlesworth commented “The Gavula brothers were amazing. Brian Gavula, brother of 173rd Veteran Dave Gavula, carried some speakers on his Ruck and played motivational music throughout the walk. Dave Gavula had a determination that had no equal. The love that these men still feel not only for each other and the brothers they carried with them but for the unit is unequalled. We all have and always will love the 173rd.”

“Mile ten we stopped to change socks, check feet and rehydrate. I had a small blister that was addressed, Mile 14 was when my feet decided to flip me the bird. They were raw as hamburger. If it was not for Chuck taping my feet, I would have never made it and I owe him many thanks for patching me up” said Ryan Bell.

Charlesworth continues, “As they hit about the 15 mile mark there were some more minor issues that need to be handled and I did the best I could with what I had to wrap some feet. I was skeptical that Ryan Bell would be able to finish, but he went on to prove me wrong. It was a throwback for me to be caring for these Paratroopers again. It seemed only like yesterday that I was checking their feet and making sure they drank enough water while we patrolled the deserts of Iraq or the mountains of Afghanistan.”

“No matter how hard it got or how tired they were they made sure to keep that 173rd flag flying high and let everyone know that we were motivated to complete the mission” said Charlesworth

“MSG Jeremy Scribner was a true leader throughout the march. He continued to check on everyone and keep me informed whenever he came through a check point on how everyone was or let me know who was hurting but didn't want to let me know. It felt like being home again working beside Scribner, as he and I have a long history of supporting each other in some pretty bad situations” added Charlesworth.

“If you’ve never trekked far with boots on and a heavy load on your back then you wouldn’t quite understand this phase (the last few miles) of the walk, physically. Think of it as this, your feet have blisters. They have busted and blood is leaking from your boots and your feet are telling your brain to stop! This is where you physically have to force yourself to keep going. One foot in front of the other! You look at Ryan Bell and the streamers he carried. You just don’t quite forget that there is a reason for this. Yeah, we might be crazy enough to do this in general but this marathon was for someone else. We were just the ones who were bestowed with the responsibility to never forget!” said Matt Bernard.

A couple guys did not make it to the end and, of course, were disappointed. “I made sure to tell those that had to drop out not to worry. I said, ‘today is not about proving your ability to walk, it is about remembering our buddies and spending time with each other. Whether you finish or not that has been accomplished.’ I don't know if that helped but I did the best I could to keep spirits high” commented Charlesworth.

When each of the men crossed the finish line, Steve Hines, father of KIA LT Derek Hines, hung the finisher’s medals around each one of their necks. “It could not have been better. Most broke into tears as he did it. This event was a difficult one for all involved. The emotions were as raw as their feet at the end,” said Charlesworth. Matt Bernard wrote “After 26.2 miles, I stopped! I hug my kids who had come to meet me and told them I needed to finish with my team. So I turned back and met them just as they turned and finished with 173rd Airborne Brigade’s flag flying high!”

MSG Jeremy Scribner had this to say about the event, “Events like this fill my soul with pride, with joy, and with some sort of sadness. I am proud to have been part of such a great Company of men, joyful to spend just a few more hours with them, and sad when it is time to part ways and return to our lives. The sacrifices that we make to come together, bearing the cost, burning the leave, and driving or flying the miles is a small penance to pay in order to be with the ones who we clung to in the most unnatural times of warfare.  Coming together with them to push through a physical challenge to honor those who fell with us was a prideful moment that I hope we are able to do for years to come.”

173rd Veteran Ryan Bell commented that “I was about to take my next break, when I was told that I had minutes left. I was like, ‘MINTUES! What do you mean by minutes?’ I was informed that I had 25 minutes to make it to the finish line. I was just under 2 miles from the finish line. I ran the last 2 miles. To keep me going I keep muttering to myself, "This is not about me. It's about them. I am here to do this and they are not." 

“As I turned the corner,” said Bell, “I caught a girl the who encouraged me to keep going. We both looked at each other and sprinted to the end. I made it in 8 hours and 58 minutes. I had two minutes to spare. As I crossed that line, I was flooded with emotion. Chuck was there to greet me and help me with my pack. I was mentally and physically drained to the point where I could barely make a coherent sentence. I was happy to be a part of this. The pain and suffering was worth honoring our fallen brothers and seeing guys that once stood to my left and right knowing that we would take a bullet for one another.  The streamers on my ruck got me through this. They were still watching my six and pushed me all the way. Jake Swanson, Colemen Bean, Matt Blaskowski, Kyle Thomas and Michael Curry were on my ruck. It was emotional crossing that line. I did it. The guys upstairs were looking down on me.”

“I cannot thank the Association Foundation enough for supporting this event. Every so often we hear that another one of our brothers we brought home has been lost to the wounds of war that never heal.  The one thing we are missing that we all had overseas is each other.  Opportunities to bring guys together and participate in events like this are the best medicine.  We need to be there for each other at home the same way we were on the battlefield” said Dave Gavula.

The event was sponsored by the 173rd Airborne Brigade Association Foundation and coordinated by 173rd Veteran David Gavula, with assistance from Leta Carruth. The Association Foundation provided travel reimbursement, lodging and entry fees for some of the participants. Several of the participants asked family and friends to “sponsor” them by making donations to the Association Foundation. Because of the tremendous level of positive feedback from the men who participated in this event, the 173rd Airborne Brigade Association Foundation hopes to sponsor more events like this around the nation in order that more Veterans can reconnect and “check in” on each other.


Photos from the event