After 10 days of walking 770 miles across four states, United States Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Nathan Harris and his fellow “Rucking Raiders” woke up Monday morning with a feeling he couldn’t quite describe.
“There was a unique sense of excitement,” Harris said. “For all those days we woke up together and knew we had walking to do and places to be, but we knew it was about to end. It was almost like the last day of summer camp.”
On Monday, the Marine Raider Memorial March that Harris organized in honor of seven elite Marines killed during training last year ended with one last leg from their final stopping point in Sneads Ferry to Stone Bay, where the United States Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command (MARSOC) is headquartered. MARSOC oversees the Raiders regiment, of which the seven Marines, who were all stationed at Camp Lejeune, were a part.
Tonight, some members of the group will return to the Port City for a post-ruck celebration and fundraiser for the families of special operations Marines who have been injured or killed.
“We wanted to bring these men home,” said Harris of the march. He served and trained with the men killed when their Black Hawk UH-60 went down off the coast of Navarre, Florida on March 10, 2015.
The group brought the men home, collecting the support of thousands of people along the way. Every mile of their journey delivered well-wishers who lined the streets and highways to thank the ruckers and encourage them to keep going even when it got tough. Nowhere was the crowd bigger than near Camp Lejeune on Monday, when nearly 100 people joined with the original 19 ruckers to make the final walk. Harris estimated the crowd of spectators, which included an entire local elementary school, was somewhere between 1,000 and 2,000 people.
“It was really something. It was overwhelming to see everyone come out,” said Harris, adding that people told him they had never seen the community come together in such a way before. “I never thought that this would get such a positive response. It’s a humbling experience. I’m a Marine, I’m not used to stuff like that.”
The march ended with Harris and others giving speeches to thank everyone and honor their brothers in arms. The paddle the ruckers carried from Navarre, which was the lone piece of wreckage that was found intact, was presented to the commanding officer of the 2nd Marine Raider Battalion. Though the ending and the journey preceding it were tough emotionally, mentally and physically, Harris said it was his way of coping with the loss and helping their families.
“The first-year anniversary of a loved one’s death is hard. I knew that this time period would be incredibly rough for all their families,” Harris said. “Instead of the widows and other relatives sitting at home mourning the death of their loved ones, now they at least had something to look forward to, something to distract them for a little bit.”
Since the mission of bringing the “Raider 7” home was accomplished, Harris and the rest of the ruckers have been in recovery mode for their tired bodies and minds.
“I put a lot of miles on my feet,” Harris said. “It’s not an easy feat to ruck as far as we did for as long as we did.”
By Friday night, however, they’ll be ready to celebrate with the public at the group’s post-ruck party and fundraiser at Bakery 105 at 105 Orange St. in downtown Wilmington. A silent auction and raffle will be held to raise money for the Brothers in Arms Foundation, a non-profit organization that gives support to the families of Special Operations Marines who have been injured or killed. Prizes include custom-made firearms (including two special rifles and a Glock pistol of choice) and other items that have been donated to the cause. According to Harris, all the money raised Friday will go to Brothers in Arms and the MARSOC Foundation, organizations whose funds reached low levels after the sudden loss of seven special forces members at one time.
“My primary goal for this march was to raise awareness and to bring the men home. My secondary goal was to raise money for the families of these men and for any families who may be affected in the future,” Harris said, noting they have members currently serving overseas in dangerous areas. “It’s not a question of if guys will be affected, it’s a question of when.”
Friday night’s event, which is open to the public and will be attended by several of the ruckers, has a cover charge of $20, which includes a raffle ticket and a drink ticket. Additional drink tickets cost $5, and there will also be live musical entertainment. Doors open at 6 p.m., and the attire is smart casual. The raffle and auction will take place around 9 p.m., and ticket holders must be present to win prizes.
“We’d love to break bread and have drinks with the public,” Harris said. “They’ve supported us this whole way, and we’d love to share our stories with them.”
For Harris, it’s not just a party – it’s the culmination of year’s worth of planning and preparing for a difficult journey that he “would do all over again in a heartbeat.”
“I understand that it would be a lot of work, but I also didn’t understand why more people didn’t want to do it,” said Harris of putting everything together. “I feel like there’s always more that I could’ve done, but I’m happy with the way things turned out. This is the most fun I’ve had in the Marine Corps. I’m honored to be able tot touch some people’s lives in a positive way.”
For more information on the fundraiser, visit the event’s Facebook page.