Service members walk, welcome German tradition

Story by U.S. Army Sgt. Ryan Twist
139th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) Public Affairs

JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq More than 500 service members walked to celebrate a German tradition, the Volksmarch, sponsored by the 64th Medical Detachment Veterinary Services, Sept. 26 at Holt Stadium at Joint Base Balad, Iraq.

“A Volksmarch is not a race, it’s an event made so you can appreciate nature, appreciate fellowship and just get out,” said Lt. Col. David S. Galloway, the commander of the 64th MDVS. “You’re not working, you’re just enjoying yourself. That is the German culture. It is a much slower culture than America.”

Galloway, a Memphis, Tenn., native, said the event boosts morale – getting everyone out of their offices or rooms, and away from the grind of their deployments. He said it gives the service members a chance to experience a part of German culture in Iraq.

“It’s the first Volksmarch I have ever heard of,” said Sgt. 1st Class Suzannie A. Wilkins, the 80th Ordnance Battalion noncomissioned officer in charge of support operations.

Wilkins, a Tacoma, Wash., native, said she did not know much about Germany other than what she learned in high school. She said she heard there would be interesting facts at stations during the walk where she could learn about Germany. She received a beer mug in a drawing and was given a T-shirt for her participation.

“This is like (physical training) for us,” said 1st Lt. Yao T. Pone, the officer in charge of direct contracts, with the 90th Sustainment Brigade out of Little Rock, Ark. “This is fun, no pressure. You come out, sweat and have fun with everybody.”

Pone also won a mug in the drawing. He said the mug and T-shirt were beautiful and he appreciated the generosity of the 64th.

Pone, a Soloman Island, Md., native, said he has had previous experience with the German culture, but not with the Volksmarch. He said he spent a couple of weeks for annual training in Germany and went to some of the festivities there.

“The first Volksmarch, people’s walk, was held in the early 1950s in a small town of Wald, Germany, as a non-competitive sporting event that everybody could attend,” said Sgt. 1st Class Michelle D. Zuckert, the 64th noncommissioned officer in charge of operations. “Since then, the Volksmarch has happened in 14 countries around the world.”

Zuckert said when her local chapter, the International Wandering Club from Heidelberg, Germany, asked for volunteers, she hesitated at first. With her family and friends in Germany and everybody in the unit missing home, the detachment decided to bring the Volksmarch here.

“Here we are making history,” she said. “This is the first Volksmarch in Iraq.”

Zuckert, who travels throughout Germany and other countries doing Volksmarches, said the Heidelberg International Wandering Club sponsors a 2-day event every year. She said she, her family and the Girl Scouts USA  participate in the Heidelberg walk, where she can enjoy the community as a whole.

Zuckert said her club, Soldiers’ Angels Germany, and the JBB New Car Sales helped procure 624 German, St. Pauli Girl, non-alcoholic beers, 350 Volksmarch T-shirts, 150 "Never Back Down from a Challenge” Iraq, 2009 T-shirts, 3,000 packs of German gummy bears, 101 pounds of pretzel rods, 120 dozen cookies, 120 Rice Krispy treats, 200 neck cooling wraps, 40 gallons of sweet tea and 20 cases of Gatorade, for the event.

She said all the volunteers helped bring as much German culture to the event as possible. Her family, along with the girl scouts, acquired and individually wrapped 300 beer mugs from Germany, she said.

“Part of the march was actually through the only wooded area here on JBB,” said Zuckert. “That was intentional, so people would think about Germany and not necessarily about being here in Iraq.”

The event had five stations along a five km trail, manned by the 8th Medical Logistic Company, out of Miesau, Germany, and 64th MDVS Soldiers. Each station had different information, trivia and music.

Galloway said the service members celebrated in the spirit intended, walking and visiting with each other.

“We had over 500 people show up,” said Galloway. “It was a really good event.”


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Service members walk toward a checkpoint during the Volksmarch Sept. 26, at Joint Base Balad, Iraq.

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A Soldier with the 64th Medical Detachment Veterinary Services, out of Kaiserslautern, Germany, arranges beer mugs Soldiers won in a drawing at Holt Stadium after participating in the Volksmarch Sept. 26 at Joint Base Balad, Iraq.

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Three-hundred beer mugs were given out at Holt Stadium after service members participated in the Volksmarch Sept. 26, on Joint Base Balad, Iraq.