ST. GEORGE — It is said that a journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step. That could definitely be said for a group of six members of the Texas A&M Corps of Cadets who began a 1,000-mile journey to raise funds for children of fallen special operations military members at the base of Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park.
The group, known as Project Atlas Rucks, is conducting what is known as a “ruck march,” named for the large rucksacks the cadets carry on their backs, which contain their extra layers of clothing and gear. The group began Wednesday in Zion National Park and will march a cumulative distance – approximately 20 miles per person per day – of 1,000 miles through parts of Utah and Arizona, and will end in Pagosa Springs, Colorado.
The six team members – Ethan Lochner (senior), Taylor Elliott (senior), Wyatt Vance (junior), Zachary Cross (sophomore), Colton Kennedy (sophomore) and Bryce Buchanan (sophomore) – are all part of Company H-1 Texas A&M Corps of Cadets, which is one part of the approximately 2,500 cadets attending the senior military college.
According to information on the Texas A&M Corps of Cadets website, “The Texas A&M Corps of Cadets, (the Corps) is the largest, oldest and most visible student organization and leadership training program at Texas A&M University. It is one of the largest uniformed bodies of students in the nation.”
Additionally, it said that “the Corps of Cadets consistently commissions the most ROTC cadets in the nation. An average of 40-45% of (Texas A&M) cadets pursue a military commission in the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps.”
For the six team members of Project Atlas Rucks, commissioned military service is the goal and desire, Lochner, who hopes to join the Navy, said.
The group is conducting the march to raise funds for the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, a nonprofit group that supports the children and families of fallen and severely wounded special operations military members.
The 40-year-old nonprofit organization supports education programs and provides college scholarships as well as family outreach, mental health and financial support for special operations personnel and their family’s in America’s Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps.
This march marks the fourth effort for Project Atlas Rucks, which has already raised $33,000 for Special Operations Warrior over the course of the previous three years’ ruck marches.
It is the goal of this march, Vance, who also hopes to join the Navy, said, to raise $16,000.
The march itself, including food and travel expenses, was paid for by a GoFundMe which was donated to by family and friends of the six members of the team.
It is just one way, Vance said, that they, as able-bodied college kids, can do something to raise awareness for the cause that is important to them.
“At the end of the day, it’s all for Special Operations Warrior Foundation and those who have given the most for this country,” Vance said.
Lochner agreed with Vance and encouraged people to visit the nonprofit’s website and learn about why they have been donating to the organization for the last four years.
“It’s unbelievable what they do for the families of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. We wouldn’t be out here enjoying the freedoms that we are and the places that we are without the sacrifices that those people made,” Lochner said, adding that the ruck is their way of showing their gratitude.
The group of six began their march Wednesday by hiking Zion’s famous Angel’s Landing Trail and then adding on about 14-16 additional miles of hiking, all while carrying their rucksacks with all the gear they would need for the day.
Each day of marching takes approximately six or more hours, Lochner said, to ensure that the cadets all reach their 20-mile goal. The ruck is supported by two chase vehicles, which hold the supplies and provide necessary shelter.
Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the group is following all active COVID-19 travel restrictions and precautions as they make their way from Utah to Colorado.
The team headed east from Zion Thursday and plan to reach Pagosa Springs Dec. 17.
To learn more, and for the link to donate to Special Operations Warrior Foundation, follow Project Atlas Rucks on their journey on Instagram.
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