Some of my neighbors have probably wondered why, for the past four months, they’ve seen me trudging through the Rockcliffe Park neighborhood at the crack of dawn, wearing combat boots and carrying a military pack. Given this year’s ongoing commemorations of the War of 1812, someone’s probably wondered whether I’m out to prove Thomas Jefferson’s famous assessment that success in Canada would be “a mere matter of marching.” Or, more simply, whether this American has lost a few marbles.
Well, happily, neither is true. What I’ve been doing is preparing for the Nijmegen March that begins next week.
For those not in the military, a little background: Since 1909 the Dutch military has held a four-day training exercise in Nijmegen, a city of about 160,000 in the eastern Netherlands. What started as a small local event has become an extravaganza attracting some 50,000 marchers from around the world. About 10,000 are from militaries, the rest are civilians. I am told the event attracts close to 1,000,000 spectators. There are different distances for different groups; the military groups march 40 kilometers a day for four consecutive days – about 8 to 9 hours each day.)
I am going with a group of about 250 members of the Canadian Forces who have been long-time participants. Canada has an honored place in the march as a result of the role they played in the liberation of Holland during WWII.
I have been asked by many people — most often by my wife, Julie — “why are you going to the Netherlands to walk 40 K a day, in the summer heat, in combat boots?” (She’s leading the contingent that thinks I might have lost a few marbles, by the way).
The story is actually very simple. I was having breakfast with Laurie Hawn, the MP from Edmonton who is a retired Air Force pilot, and several senior officers in the Canadian Forces. They were all talking about having done Nijmegen and what a great experience it had been. In a moment of exuberance I said: “Gee, that sounds like fun. I’d like to do it some time.” A few days later I received an invitation from the Canadian Chief of Staff, General Walt Natynczyk, to join the Canadian Forces for this year’s march. How could I say no?
I often talk about how the extraordinary relationship between Canada and the United States is unlike any in the world. That is particularly the case between our two militaries. Americans and Canadians in uniform have stood shoulder-to-shoulder in Afghanistan, Libya, NORAD and elsewhere around the world. This is my chance, in my own small way, to stand (and march) shoulder-to-shoulder with my friends in the Canadian forces.
Tomorrow I’ll talk a little about the training and my recent obsession with socks and insoles.