Soldiers hike to honor fallen comrade

Soldiers of the Kentucky National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 149th Infantry conducted the Inaugural Mountain Warrior Memorial Ruck March this past weekend, from Ravenna to Middlesboro.

The 202-mile ruck march was held in honor of Lt. Col. Jeff Cole, former commander of the infantry battalion who passed away from cancer in 2015.

The march began on the morning of Dec. 1 with a flag folding ceremony in Ravenna and continued for the next 51 hours as soldiers passed each of their armories en route to Middlesboro. Local citizens and family members joined the Soldiers for the last 1.5 miles through the streets of Middlesboro. Among them was Cole’s widow, Christie Cole.

“The idea the Guard would conceive of something like this was amazing to me. Jeff would be very honored, but completely blown away that they would want to do something this huge. This holiday season has been especially hard for me and this weekend has been a really bright spot. It has made me remember, but it has also been something I could rally around,” she said. “Just seeing these guys remember Jeff and his legacy, it’s just really powerful.”

Teams from each company of the infantry battalion, nicknamed the “Mountain Warriors” completed five separate marches connecting their home armories. Charlie Company marched from Ravenna to Mt. Vernon. Bravo Company marched from Mt. Vernon to Somerset to London. The Forward Support Company marched from London to Barbourville. Headquarters and Headquarters Company marched from Barbourville to Pineville. Alpha Company marched from Harlan to Pineville. Delta Company marched from Pineville to Middlesboro.

“Our goal with this event is to provide the communities our armories reside in with the opportunity to see our soldiers performing our military tasks and giving back to the fallen soldiers of the past,” said Lt. Col. Eddie Simpson, commander of the 1/149th. “This event is our way of turning our December drill into a fun packed event that incorporates all of the lines of effort by the Adjutant General.”

Kentucky’s adjutant general, Maj. Gen. Stephen Hogan, has challenged Guardsmen of the Commonwealth with his lines of effort: to remain qualified and fit, to retain operational readiness, remain relevant to the national mission of the National Guard and to foster quality connections with Kentucky communities.

Following the ruck march, a memorial ceremony was held at the Middlesboro Armory.