CAMP BONDSTEEL, Kosovo – More than 600 multinational service members from all across Kosovo gathered Nov. 21 at Camp Grand Danois, the Danish camp inside Camp Novo Selo, Mitrovica/Mitrovice, Kosovo, for the last of three Danish Contingent Marches scheduled to be held this autumn.
Approximately 50 U.S. service members joined their Danish hosts and participants from Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Portugal, Italy, Poland, Sweden and others, as well as members of the Kosovo Police and European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo for the grueling journey through the Kosovo countryside.
The Dancon March is a tradition for Danish soldiers wherever they are stationed, and has been held every year since 1972. The march consists of approximately 26 kilometers (about 16 miles) of trail, the terrain varying based on the area in which the march is held. Dancon Marches have been held in Kosovo since Danish soldiers became involved in KFOR in 1999, and are held in other theaters as well.
Each participant is required to carry a minimum load of 10 kilos (about 22 pounds) for the entire march, and has a maximum of eight hours in which to complete the course. Some iterations of the Dancon March involve distances of up to 100 kilometers (62 miles).
“Remember this is not a competition,” said Danish army Lt. Col. Jens Peder Nyrup, commander of the Danish KFOR contingent, “It is a chance for you to enjoy the benefits of exercise with soldiers from all over the world.”
Marches have taken place in Cyprus, Croatia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan, said Nyrup.
Everyone that participates and completes the course in less than eight hours receives the Danish Contingent March Medal, a bronze-colored, circular medal with red and white-striped ribbon.
The march brings the participants through rough terrain in the countryside. The hardest part for most is the hill near the beginning of the course.
Spc. Drew Peterson, Boone, Iowa, aviation mechanic, Task Force Aviation, Multinational Battle Group East, Iowa National Guard, was the first U.S. Soldier to finish the march.
“I was very proud to lead the U.S. Army in the march,” said Peterson. This was Peterson?s second time doing the march. He finished in 4 hours and 1 minute. “This experience taught me that no matter how big the obstacle, being well prepared physically and mentally, and never telling yourself „I can't do it?, will allow you to accomplish great things,” he added.
“It was great to be out there with all our coalition partners participating in a physically challenging activity and getting to know everyone at the same time,” said Maj. Bettye Dufour, Sherwood, Ark., operations and training officer, Task Force Aviation, MNBG E, Arkansas National Guard.
“I think the best part about doing the Dancon was getting out into the villages and countryside. We were able to see all the natural beauty in Kosovo and were also able to have one-on-one interaction with the children of this region. This is a beautiful place and the people are so welcoming,” said Dufour.
“After I was done, I was just glad it was over,” said Master Sgt. Terry Martin, Cabot, Ark., operations noncommissioned officer in charge, Task Force Aviation, MNBG E, Arkansas National Guard. “I did end up with some sizable blisters on the bottom of both of my feet, nothing a little moleskin won?t help heal.”
“We had greater laughs in the midst of the pain,” said Spc. Brandon Morgan, Memphis, Tenn., patient administrative specialist, Task Force Medical, MNBG E, U.S. Army Reserves, Alabama.
Sgt. Jason Humke, Ackley, Iowa, Blackhawk helicopter crew chief, Task Force Aviation, Iowa National Guard, was one of the U.S. troops to participate in the Dancon. After Humke finished he turned around and went backward on the course to try to find whatever U.S. Soldiers had not yet finished.
“We still had Soldiers out there,” said Humke. “I finished the march and threw down my rucksack and grabbed a half-drank water from a friend and headed back out to bring all of my people in from the march,” he said.
“I am glad I did walk back and help others. This was my third and final Dancon March,” Humke added.
This was the last Dancon March scheduled to be held in Kosovo. The Danish contingent is expected to withdraw the majority of its troops from the area and there will not be enough troops to be able to set up and run anymore, said Nyrup.