DE PERE — Walking 140 miles over seven days was hard. Completing the trek in combat boots, while carrying a 45 to 50-pound rucksack, made it even more difficult.
A team of four St. Norbert College ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps) students — Karsen Sherrick, Jason Ortscheid, Chris Rosene and Sam Skiff — took part in the fifth annual ruck march, Aug. 16-22, from Green Bay to Milwaukee, to raise funds and awareness for American veterans.
“Whoever started this definitely did not want to make it comfortable, which is part of the point,” said Skiff, a sophomore from Fond du Lac. “It’s painful for us. It’s a sacrifice for us, but it’s not even close to the sacrifice made for us to live in this country by so many people now suffering from mental health issues because of what they have done for us.”
Money, raised through the ruck from donations, supports 4th HOOAH, an organization that operates out of Green Bay with a mission to raise awareness of veteran issues and provide support for those in need. The team set a goal of $20,000. They had raised $16,000 by the completion of the march.
“(4th HOOAH) does things like scuba diving and skydiving for veterans who suffer from mental illness,” explained Sherrick, a senior from Neenah. “They will give them support dogs, animals. They do window and AC repairs. They just give them a community to be a part of. They do this for veterans who suffer from mental illness or have suicidal thoughts. Twenty a day are taking their own lives. They try to take that number down.”
The ruck march was the second for Sherrick, who served as the team leader. The amount of miles covered each day was dependent on where the team stayed at night. The shortest day was 14 miles. The longest was 28 miles.
“The Kewaunee to Manitowoc walk was pretty long for us,” said Sherrick, who will be commissioned an officer in the National Guard following graduation from St. Norbert. “In Milwaukee, it gets a little sketchy. We are not on the highway, but we are getting pretty close. We stay in fire stations and American Legion halls. We have a hotel for a night. With COVID this year, we had to get one more hotel.”
Skiff carried the American flag in his rucksack, which he described as an “honor.” They hoped to catch the attention of passers-by.
“We get quite a few honks, a couple waves,” said Skiff, who will also be commissioned an officer in the National Guard after college. “People will stop and ask us what we are doing. Some people are generous enough to bring us Gatorade or water.”
“We also have people who will tell us their own personal stories about a loved one or someone they knew who unfortunately took their own life or suffered in some way,” said Sherrick. “That’s when you realize that we are actually walking for something here. It motivates us and inspires us every morning.”
The rucksacks are heavy, but foot pain and injury posed the greatest physical challenge. Ortscheid of Neenah and Rosene of Plymouth N.H., required hospital treatment for their feet and had to later rejoin Sherrick and Skiff.
Music speakers on their rucksacks and constant jokes helped them deal with the mental aspect of the miles ahead.
“We had a joke when we got to Milwaukee that there was no more corn to look at,” said Sherrick with a laugh.
“The 24-mile day we had four turns total,” explained Skiff. “We were on a single road for 19 miles straight.”
Skiff’s mother, Sheila, joined them for the final five miles before their stop in Sheboygan. She had arranged for a priest from a local Catholic parish to offer a blessing at the fire station.
“It was special for me personally,” said Skiff. “St. Michael is my confirmation saint, so I have a little necklace with a cross with St. Michael and Jesus. My mom gave it to me right before I left for basic training. Having that reminder there, being able to draw strength from that was really beneficial for me.”
Skiff is in line to lead next year’s ruck march. Sherrick takes with him fond memories of people he encountered through his participation.
“I got an email from a guy on day two about how he lost his son,” said Sherrick. “It brings tears to your eyes when reading it. We actually got to meet him.”
“It’s pretty heartbreaking,” said Skiff. “That’s why we march.”
Donations are still accepted in support of the ruck march. To donate or for more information, visit hooahinc.org/event/for-them-ruck-march.