US Army soldiers tackle midnight march on Paul Bunyan State Trail

The event had elements of national pride involved, but at its heart it's a test of individual resolve.

Soldiers from the Brainerd Recruiting Company and the Minneapolis Recruiting Battalion check in at the first waypoint while participating in the Norwegian Foot March, or Marsjmerket, Thursday, May 13, 2021, at night along the Paul Bunyan State Trail just after crossing Wilderness Road in Pequot Lakes. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

Plenty of lakes area residents have enjoyed a casual jaunt on the scenic Paul Bunyan State Trail.

It’s probably safe to say few, if any, have done so in the dead of night, for 18.6 miles, with a 25-pound rucksack on their back.

That’s the gauntlet taken up by soldiers of the U.S. Army attached to the Brainerd Army Recruiting Company and the Minneapolis Recruiting Battalion. Twenty-five soldiers gathered the evening of Thursday, May 13, at the trailhead in Nisswa, near Cenex and Dairy Queen, for a good old-fashioned ruck march. They were dressed in full uniform, with 25-pound rucksacks and the objective that they must travel to a series of checkpoints and back in a set period of time.

It would be 18.6 miles in all, to be undertaken in 4 1/2 hours, between 10 p.m. and 2:30 a.m. from Thursday evening into Friday morning.

“We're doing it to qualify in a foreign army's qualifications for the ruck march,” said Sgt. Kevin Barber, one of the supervising officers on hand. “We’re also raising awareness for our Army national hiring days, which are going on between May 10 and June 14. We have hiring events in the Army offering additional $2,000 enlistment bonuses.”


“It’s extremely challenging. It definitely takes a toll on you, especially on your back, on your feet. It's a very daunting task to take on 18 miles,"

— Sgt. Jamie Burhop

Barber noted the event is, effectively, to test the soldier’s preparedness by tackling a Norwegian foot march, or Marsjmerket, that Norwegian army regulars undergo. By fulfilling the parameters of the challenge — a march through backcountry environs of 18.6 miles with 25-pound rucksacks in the middle of night with little or no light to guide them — U.S. soldiers will have qualified for the same Norwegian distinction and garner a badge to be worn on their uniforms. Members of the armed services often take up challenges from foreign militaries, Barber noted, which serves to acclimate American soldiers and cross-pollinate tactics and techniques between allies.

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As to be expected, there is an element of national pride involved. Sgt. Jamie Burhop said soldiers are cognizant of the fact they’re representing American pride and values in every step of the grueling trek, but at its core the ruck march is about preparedness, personal accountability and individual resolve.

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“We’re showing we have the intestinal fortitude to complete the ruck march just like our Norwegian counterparts,” Burhop said. “It’s extremely challenging. It definitely takes a toll on you, especially on your back, on your feet. It's a very daunting task to take on 18 miles. It’s showing that we can do it, that we have the mental capacity to do it and that we have the physical strength to do it. We’re very proud to do the ruck march.”

GABRIEL LAGARDE may be reached at or 218-855-5859. Follow at .
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