CAMP BONDSTEEL, Kosovo - Stepping off at precisely 4:38 p.m., soldiers at Camp Bondsteel marched together June 6 to remember those who have died serving in the Global War on Terrorism and all conflicts.
The march was held in conjunction with a memorial march in Bismarck, N.D. Together, the marches mark the date and time two members of the North Dakota National Guard's 1-188th Air Defense Artillery Security Forces were killed in 2006. Army Sgt. Travis Van Zoest, 21, Bismarck, N.D., and Army Spc. Curtis Mehrer, 21, Bismarck, N.D., died when their vehicle struck an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan.
The first memorial march was held in Bismarck in 2007 to honor Van Zoest, Mehrer, Army Cpl. Nathan J. Goodiron, Mandaree, N.D., and Army Cpl. Christopher K. Kleinwatcher, Wahpeton, N.D., all 1-188th members who were killed in Afghanistan. It has since evolved into an event that honors all fallen servicemembers.
"We who wear the uniform know that freedom is not free," said Army Brig. Gen. Al Dohrmann, Bismarck, N.D., commander of Multinational Battle Group East, at the march's opening ceremony. "Through the memorial march, we reaffirm our commitment to never forget the warriors who have made the ultimate sacrifice."
Army Chief Warrant Officer Kevin Mehrer, Bismarck N.D., the father of Army Spc. Mehrer, led the march at Camp Bondsteel. His wife, Joyce, led the march in Bismarck, while members of the 1-188th deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq held simultaneous marches in their locations.
Chief Mehrer, who is deployed to Kosovo and works in the MNBG E logistics section, said that it was a beautiful day for the march and that the turnout, both by American and multinational soldiers, was "awesome."
"I didn't expect to see so many multinational countries involved," he said. "It's a very good tribute because it's not just for the four soldiers in the ADA, it's for all the soldiers."
Army 1st Lt. Jay Sheldon, a MNBG E staff officer who headed up the group that organized the march, said more than 400 people participated, including servicemembers from the United States, Poland, Turkey, Denmark, Ukraine and Switzerland.
"There were more people here than I thought there would be, especially from the multinational countries," said Army 1st Lt. Janet Masseth, Minot, N.D., who helped organize the march. "It was nice to see that we all have something in common and we can lean on each other."
At the opening ceremony, Dohrmann noted that June 6 was an important day in military history, the anniversary of the D-Day invasion in 1944 and the opening of the World War I Battle of Belleau Wood in 1918.
"There's a lot of significance to the day and that's what makes it all the better," said Army Lt. Col. David Skalicky, Bismarck, N.D. "It was incredible to see our multinational partners and to share with them over the course of the march."
Skalicky said that he knew Mehrer and Van Zoest from their earliest days as recruits in the Guard, and the Danish soldier he marched with had lost one of his comrades in Afghanistan only five days ago.
"That's what touched me the most, knowing that we both have and know fallen comrades," he said. "We both feel the loss."
Sheldon, who was involved with organizing the first memorial march, said the event exceeded his expectations.
"Everything clicked," he said. "We had great support and great participation. It's just soldiers being soldiers, remembering the fallen."