Keesler Air Force Base   Right Corner Banner
Join the Air Force

News > Keesler Medics join Bataan Memorial March
The Bataan Memorial Death March
WHITE SANDS MISSILE RANGE, N.M. – Participants in the Bataan Memorial Death March begin their trek through the sand here March 25. The event included both a full marathon and a 15.2-mile honorary march. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Daniel E. Liddicoet/Released)
Download HiRes
Keesler Medics join Bataan Memorial March

Posted 4/18/2012   Updated 4/18/2012 Email story   Print story


by Steve Pivnick
81st Medical Group Public Affairs

4/18/2012 - KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. -- Four "Dragon Medics" and several family members were among the almost 7,000 participants in the 23rd annual Bataan Memorial Death March held March 25 at New Mexico's White Sands Missile Range.

They were Nelson Viniegra and Nicholas Conger, 81st Medical Operations Squadron; Norites Bittig, 81st Dental Squadron; and Ashley Beaty, 81st Surgical Operations Squadron. Each had a personal reason to take part.

This was the fourth Bataan march for Viniegra, a dermatology clinic nurse. "The Bataan march is one of my favorite runs. I was in the civilian light category and my time was 7:21:32."

Beaty, a medical administrative technician in the 81st MSGS command section, completed 15 miles of the full marathon before encountering a medical issue. It was the first time for her and she was in the military heavy category.

Conger, chief of infectious diseases, said, "My wife's nephew, Sgt. Christopher Sanders, died fighting in Iraq (a booby-trapped house in Sinsil, Iraq, on Jan. 9, 2008). Her family lives in Roswell, N.M., and a friend of theirs recommended they participate in the march to remember his sacrifice as well as others who fought before him. There were about 40 family and friends who did the march with T-shirts bearing Christopher's photo. This is her extended family's fourth or fifth year and my family's second year to do the march.

"I participated as a 'civilian light' and ran my first marathon. I placed 25th in my age group (over 40) and 85th overall with a time of 4 hours, 30 minutes. My son Kolbe, 14, walked the marathon for the second year. My son Christian, 12, and daughters Julia, 11, and Olivia, 9, and wife Alicia completed the 14-mile memorial walk. Olivia was the youngest female to participate, as she turned 9 five days before the event (9 is the minimum age). My mother-in-law, Margaret Rodriguez, was the oldest female, placing second in the 26.2-mile marathon at the age of 74!"

He added, "We were honored to meet a survivor of the actual death march at dinner the night before. Also, we were moved and impressed by how many wounded warriors participated in the event, many with lower-extremity prostheses."

Norites was in the military heavy category and finished in 10:04:50 while carrying a 43-pound rucksack.

Explaining her motivation, she said, "During my deployment last year, I drafted my 2012 calendar of activities; I scheduled myself to do something almost every weekend. The Bataan Memorial Death March is a major challenge I set and the rest fall under the 'just for fun' category.

"I participated in the Bataan Memorial Death March simply because it's a 30th birthday challenge that I set for myself. I registered under the military heavy category (minimum of a 35-pound rucksack). When I clicked the registration 'submit button,' I already was nervous because I knew it would be tough. Last year, when I did the march in the military light category, I was in a lot of pain and ended with 11 blisters. I knew the pain probably would be 10 times worse than last year. Before the march, I texted my contacts and posted a message on Facebook for my friends to call or text me because I would need their motivation and encouragement, especially towards the end, to finish the march.

"The event started with what was for me an emotional ceremony. When the signal was given to start marching, I just focused and told myself repeatedly that I would cross the finish line, no matter what. I was doing great until reaching the first hill; I thought my lungs would collapse. Halfway up, I had to stop for the first time and just laid down on the side of the road to rest. I almost gave up. I think I was only in Mile 11 at that point but I remembered what was written on my bandana: 'Unless you faint, puke or die, KEEP MOVING!' So, I got up and continued marching. The farther I walked, the heavier my rucksack got. Every mile, I made it a point to stop and rest for at least a minute or two.

"At Mile 15, I received a phone call from Martha Prieto (81st Medical Group) who made sure I was hydrating and eating my oranges and bananas. Most of all, she motivated me to keep going. I also received phone calls and messages from friends and family which really helped a lot. At Mile 20, I felt a blister pop on my left heel and it was so painful. Actually, my whole body was in pain. I walked slower and it seemed everybody was passing me. After that, I stopped two or three times every mile. On one stop, I almost gave up for the second time and complained that this was too tough."

Then she thought of those who were in the actual death march.

"They didn't have power bars, energy drinks, energy candies, Gatorade, bananas, oranges, cookies, etc. They didn't receive phone calls and text messages motivating them to finish the march or rest when they needed to. Most of all, I'm only marching 26.2 miles while they were forced to march more than a hundred miles. I told myself I had no right to complain, got up and continued to walk. After Mile 22, I didn't stop to rest and just kept going. I was ready to get the march over with. I tried my best to mentally block all the pain. Finally, I saw the Mile 26 marker. I was so happy; I only had 2/10 of a mile more to go. Yet, it felt like it was the longest 2/10 of a mile I'd walked.

"And I did it! I crossed the finish line! My rucksack officially weighed 43 pounds, not including my water. I was so happy and proud of myself because I successfully completed my challenge. I ended up with nine nasty, big blisters and was so sore for several days. I literally had to crawl the first night after the march.

"Will I do it again next year? I might do it in the military or civilian light category. The pain that I went through is a great factor to consider when it comes to deciding if I would enter the military heavy class again. It was tough and painful."

Norites has some advice for anyone contemplating joining in the march.

"Train. Read the testimonies or talk to those who participated in the past. Ensure you're hydrated. Bring a lot of energy bars, candy and camel pack (for back-up). Drink water and sports drinks at every water station. (I drank two cups each of water and sports drinks at every stop.) Eat bananas and oranges too. Bring some packets of salt just in case you get muscle cramps. Have good, comfortable boots. Most of all, you will need lots of will power and determination to finish the march. Good luck!"

For more information, go to

4/20/2012 4:08:35 PM ET
Great story - inspirational but down to earth.
Bonnie McGerr, Gulfport MS
Add a comment

 Inside Keesler AFB

ima cornerSearch

Site Map      Contact Us     Questions     Security and Privacy notice     E-publishing  
Suicide Prevention    SAPR   IG   EEO   Accessibility/Section 508   No FEAR Act