Nijmegen march a success despite hurdles

MARPAC Team arrives into Camp Heumensoord at the end of the day’s marching on July 17. Photo by Combat Camera

MARPAC Team arrives into Camp Heumensoord at the end of the day’s marching on July 17. Photo by Combat Camera

Peter Mallett, Staff Writer ~

A stomach virus that sidelined two members of the Maritime Forces Pacific (MARPAC) Nijmegen marching team didn’t stop the team from completing their mission in the Netherlands.

While blisters from the day-long marches and heat exhaustion from the hot and humid temperatures are common obstacles during the event, this year’s team had to battle another enemy. On the final days of the marches approximately 20 members of the Canadian Armed Forces 170-person contingent were sickened by a stomach virus.

MARPAC’s team leader, Lieutenant (Navy) Haley van Poorten said her team had been performing exceptionally well for the first two days of the event. Overnight, shortly before the 03:45 start on Day 3, she experienced nausea and fever and was placed in isolation for over 48 hours. Then on the final day of the march a second member of the MARPAC team began experiencing similar symptoms and was also placed in isolation. She described the bug as a “mystery” virus and more like a 24-hour flu.

“Anyone in the [Canadian] contingent who reported to the MIR with such symptoms was put in isolation as a precaution,” said Lt(N) van Poorten. “It was a hard decision by the medical staff, but they had to consider the health and safety of the entire camp, which held over 5,000 military members and the other participants and onlookers.”

The loss of the team’s leader meant Second In Command, Petty Officer First Class Rayon Murdock took over the leadership duties. Lt(N) van Poorten says the shakeup was disruptive for the team’s well-practised marching formation.

“We have been conducting intensive training for this event since the end of February and this was a very tough setback for the team,” said Lt(N) van Poorten. “In the end, everyone else on the team rallied and stepped up to the challenge, and they were able to cross the finish line and achieve our team medal.”

While the team performed very well on all days of the event, interacting with the crowds, being the first CAF team to finish on Day 2, pushing through heat exhaustion on Day 3 and 4, they did not win the Wooodhouse Trophy.  The trophy was given to 33 Service Battalion this year, as chosen by the Contingent Command Team, in recognition of their outgoing spirit and teamwork, both amongst themselves and toward their fellow Contingent members, and professionalism throughout the deployment.

But the Nijmegen marches are less about a trophy or competition and more about the experience, says Lt(N) van Poorten.

A day ahead of the marches, the CAF contingent attended a memorial service at Groesbeek Canadian War Cemetery, a site where 2,338 Canadians are buried. These soldiers gave their lives to liberate the Netherlands from the Nazis during the Second World War.

The Canadian contingent was led by Colonel Geoff Abthorpe. He and the marchers also attended ceremonies at the Canadian National Vimy Memorial. In Belgium they attended a ceremony at the St-Symphorien Military Cemetery and a parade and remembrance service in Mons.

“The Canadian Armed Forces participation in the International Four Days Marches brings pride to our whole country,” said Commander Military Personnel Command, Lieutenant-General Charles Lamare. “Our participation also allows us to commemorate the sacrifices made by two generations of Canadians who fought for the rights and freedoms we have today.”

Lt(N) van Poorten was equally moved by the experience and said attending these battle sites and memorials in uniform was unforgettable.

“In Mons it was quite an emotional moment for me to see the entire town stop what they were doing and focus their attention on the military contingent as they marched through the cobblestone streets and narrow roadways of the town,” she said. “Everyone on the team felt our entire trip was a positive experience, even despite the setbacks, and glad they had the opportunity.”

This year’s MARPAC marching team included: Lt(N) Haley van Poorten, Team Leader; PO1 Rayon Murdock, 2IC; Cpl Rhys Murphy, medic; Capt Gary Leblanc; Lt(N) Rebecca Garnham; A/SLt Ashvin Chawla; CPO2 Armand Reelick; WO Nathan Verhoog; MS Kevin Simons; LS Luke Froebe; Cpl Javier Sanchez-Bringas. Alternates (substitutes): Lt(N) Mike McKenna; A/SLt Soheil Nasira.

The march, held July 17 to 20, brought together approximately 51,000 military and civilian participants from 50 countries who march over 40 kilometres for four consecutive days.

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