Boston strong: Tough Ruck soldiers walk Boston Marathon, save lives

First the “Tough Ruck” soldiers at the Boston Marathon walked a little bit over 26 miles carrying 40 pounds and then they helped save lives. Photo: Tough Ruck, Boston Marathon

WASHINGTON, April 18, 2013 - First the “Tough Ruck” soldiers at the Boston Marathon walked a little bit over 26 miles carrying 40 pounds and then they helped save lives.

At 5:00am on Monday morning a group of 15 active-duty soldiers met at the starting line of the 2013 Boston Marathon.

These soldiers gathered at the starting point five hours before any other non elite runner will be there.  They arrive this early because they are planning on walking the 26.2 miles.  Many marathons ask any runner or walker who expected to take more than 5 ½ or 6 hours to complete the race to have an early start so that they will be able to open the streets that they are required to close for the race in a more reasonable period of time.

The Boston Marathon is different from other races in many ways.  The most notable is the qualification times required of the runners.  With the exclusion of the Olympics and the various championship races, the Boston Marathon is the only marathon in the United States that requires qualifying times for its participants. For example, a man aged 45- 49 must have run a prior marathon that year in a time of 3 hours 25 minutes or faster in order to register.

The only exceptions are for those walking or running for charities, officials, local running clubs and marketers.  The majority of the exceptions are reserved for charity runners.

These early morning-gathering soldiers received an exception.  They are part of the “Tough Ruck.” Every year the Boston Athletic Association reserves entries for the military members who want to be part of this group.  These soldiers walk the Marathon wearing their full ACU’s, Army Combat Uniform, which includes their “ruck,” military backpacks filled with extra uniforms, socks, food, water, Gatorade, first aid and trauma kits for a total weight of about 40 lbs. 

Aside from the drinks, food and socks, which soldiers change regularly to protect their feet inside their boots, the soldiers did not plan to use the other items at the Boston Marathon.  The gear,  used by soldiers to survive if they were stranded alone, was supposed to be symbolic. 

Soldiers joined the Tough Ruck 2013 Boston Marathon to honor and remember fallen comrades. One of the soldiers the group was walking to honor was Lance Corporal Alexander Arredondo.  Arredondo’s father, Carlos, was at the finish line to greet the ruckers wearing a white cowboy hat and handing out American flags.

The guardsman were walking in these difficult conditions in order to raise money for the Military Friends Foundation, an organization whose mission it is to assist the National Guard and Reserve members and families who are facing hardships.

It took just over eight hours for all of the servicemen to cross the finish line on Monday afternoon.  They had gathered at the medical tent behind the finish line and were watching the runners come in.  They were still at the tent because some of the ruckers needed treatment on their feet due to severe blisters, and because this had been the arranged meeting place.  If anything went wrong for any of the service members, such as severe dehydration, they came to the tent for treatment. 

Then the unimaginable happened.  The battlefield came to them.

When the first explosion went off, these soldiers went into action.  Three guardsmen, First Sergeant Bernard Madore, Staff Sergeant Mark Welch and the Tough Ruck leader, 1st Lieutenant Steve Fiola immediately ordered the other guardsman at the scene to help people out of the chaos, and then these three men ran into it.

“It’s drilled into us, what we need to do. We run towards it, not away from it.” Said Welch

“We just tore that (fence) down and just allowed us to get in there and pull what was remaining-the burning debris, burning clothes – all the stuff that was on these people, just try to clear it the best we could” so that medical personnel could reach the victims,  Fiola said.

Madore was then able to find clean rags and water that the emergency workers needed, Welch cleared the belchers across the street getting those spectators to safety while Fiola actually extinguished a man whose clothes had caught on fire.  Then they all started helping with the triage where they could.

Once the victims were transported away for additional medical care, the servicemen stood guard over the blast area in order to keep the scene safe.

Carlos Arredondo’s picture has been widely circulated caring for a severely wounded man in a wheelchair.  The wounded man, Jeff Bauman, lost both of his legs as a result of the bombing, but his father is desperately seeking a way to get in touch with Mr. Arredondo to thank him for saving his son’s life.

In the days after the attack, Fiola said that his main responsibility now is getting in touch with the Tough Ruck 2013 members to see how they are doing in the aftermath and getting them any assistance that they might need in order to cope with this tragedy.

There is no way that anyone could not be proud, grateful and awed by these service members who support and protect us.

If you would like to donate to a Rucker, please visit

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Susan L Ruth

Susan L. Ruth is a long-time Washington, DC resident with extensive ties throughout the community.  She is a genealogical researcher and writer, and is an active volunteer in the Northern Virginia competitive swimming community.  Susan previously worked providing life-skills to head injured adults. 

Susan and her husband Kerry currently live in Northern Virginia with their three sons, Ryley, Casey and Jack and their American Bulldog, Leila.


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