The Fortunate Sons, a group of Marines from North Carolina, accomplished a monumental task by hiking across the state’s 1,000-mile Mountains-to-Sea Trail to raise awareness and support for Marines wounded in support of their freedom.
The group set out from Great Smokey Mountains National Park along the Tennessee border on Oct. 2 on a journey that would last 42 days. The Marines concluded their hike at Jockey’s Ridge on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, where family, friends and supporters, including former Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Carl Mundy, greeted them.
The Marines completed the task in pairs, hiking an average of 150 miles a week. The pairs “switched out” every Sunday for mission accomplishment.
“The switch-outs allowed the Marines to still fulfill duty assignments at the School of Infantry,” said Capt. Mark A. Greenlief, commanding officer, Echo Company, Weapons Training Battalion East. “Our daily routine continued on as we pushed a class of Marines through the school and kept focus on the trail.”
The farthest distance travelled was about 34 miles in one day and 180 miles in one week.
When the hike began, they were met with 27-degree weather that put ice and snow on the trails.
“It was definitely an eye-opener for us,” said Staff Sgt. Jeremiah B. Johnson, weapons platoon commander with E Co. “When we were no longer in the flat swamplands of Lejeune, we started to face the elements.”
However, the cold weather wasn’t enough to dampen their spirits.
“We were like spring chickens,” Johnson said. “We were exited to get started; the weather had little effect on us because of our adrenaline and motivation to get on with the event.”
Along the trail there were portions that were complete wilderness, Johnson said. They had to bring enough food and water for sustainment.
“We would wake up at first light, have breakfast, get as much water as we could then clean up camp and step off for the day,” Greenlief said. “We’d stop for 10 minutes every three to four hours, eat a Power Bar, drink some water and then continue on.”
The teams would usually stop just before dark to set up camp and plan for the next day’s events.
During the hike, the Marines mostly camped along the trail in tents.
“I slept under a bridge one night,” Johnson said. “Churches also allowed us to sleep in doors.”
Along with help from churches along the way, many people would invite the Marines into their homes and offer food and water, said Greenlief.
Despite the physical challenges on their bodies, a demanding trail and bad weather, the group finished their mission on schedule, Nov. 13.
“There was never a question of whether or not we were going to complete the hike,” Greenlief said. “I knew it wasn’t going to be an easy endeavor, but at the same time the cause and loyalty we had to each other made it a great experience.”
Greenlief said the trail never had a negative impact on the hikers, as they were able to accomplish it and fulfill their regular duties.
“Individually, these Marines have been given the opportunity to push themselves past any physical limits they had, which has made them mentally and physically stronger and in turn increased their proficiency in their job,” Greenlief said. “By far this is the toughest physical experience I’ve ever encountered.”
Fortunate Sons hopes to do events like this annually, choosing different charities throughout the community.
“It’s because of the personal experience we have that we decided to raise money for these hikes and donate to the Semper Fi Fund,” Greenlief said. “We’ve all been affected by someone being injured.”
Semper Fi Fund recently hit a landmark of $50 million in donations earlier this year and has been providing help to Marines and their families since 2004.
“Here we are, Marines giving back to Marines, but in a bigger sense we don’t just want to give back to our own, we want to also focus on charities outside the Corps,” Johnson said. “It’s a bigger picture when a group of Marines give back to the community.”
The Fortunate Sons will never forget their injured friends and will continue to raise awareness to the communities around them.
“We’re fortunate enough to be able to do what we do,” Greenlief said.
Supporters can still donate through the Semper Fi Fund web site, https://semperfifund.org/. Select “Fortunate Sons” as the event name on the donation form.
For anyone interested in the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, N.C. can visit http://www.ncmst.org/.