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The International Four Days Marches Nijmegen

Marching for miles and miles may be a requirement for military training, but for someone to travel halfway around the world to march 40 kilometers a day, for four days, carrying a 22-pound pack, while on leave, they must have something to prove.

Army Lt. Col. David M. Kirkland chief, Global Force Management, Operations and Plans, is one of a handful of U.S. military men and women who travel every year to Nijmegen, The Netherlands in mid-July to participate in the largest multiple-day marching event in the world, The International Four Day Marches Nijmegen.

“I first heard of the Four Days March in early 2011 while stationed in Germany,” Kirtland said.  “The unit I was assigned to was putting together a team to participate so I volunteered.  2016 marked my 5th successful completion of the Four-Days Marches.  I previously completed the march in 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014.  I missed the march in 2015 due to my attendance at JPME-II.”

So, why does Kirkland feel the need to participate in an event such as this when there are so many physical training options available locally?

“(For) Multiple reasons,” he said, “but one is that every year I've done the march, I've heard the comment that ‘Americans typically don't do well here.’  Statistically speaking, they are correct.  Although I've completed each one I've participated in, over the last five years the U.S. military has had one of the highest drop-out rates.

 “I think we, as a military, are better than that,” Kirkland continued, “so I do it annually to try and change that perception...one step, one mile, one day, one year at a time.”  

According to Kirkland, the march was originally organized as a means of promoting sport and exercise and was a military event with a few civilians.  It is now mainly a civilian event. In recent years, the event has been limited to approximately 40,000 participants, including about 5,000 military personnel.  Depending on age group and category, walkers have to walk 30, 40, or 50 kilometers each day for four days.

“In 2016 they celebrated the 100th edition with over 47,000 participants (during World Wars I and II, the marches were curtailed),” Kirkland said.  “Of the 47,000 participants, over 6,000 military personnel from 31 different nations participated, including 217 U.S. military personnel from all branches of service.”

Kirkland encourages everyone stationed in Europe to try the event, but offers some advice on the subject.

“If you are going to do it, start training early,” Kirkland said.  “We had a saying we would use during marching, ‘Pain is weakness leaving the body.’  During a march, I don’t recall if it was training or an event, I had an Army first sergeant who was marching on the team.  He was having some discomfort this particular day and I remember someone saying ‘Pain is weakness leaving the body.’   A young soldier marching near him said ‘First sergeant, that’s a lot of weakness.’  Everyone laughed. 

It is that camaraderie Kirkland remembers about his multiple marches.

 “Every year I’ve done the Four Days Marches I’ve participated as a military participant, and have stayed on the military camp,” he said.  “I see familiar faces each year, but the one thing we all have in common is our military service.

 We are all military, regardless of nation,” Kirkland continued.  “There is no ‘us vs them’ mentality.  It’s the same distance and weight for everyone and we all wear uniforms with boots.  Everyone is going to have aches and pains, but we are all in it together.”




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