Almost all medics on scene during the Bataan Memorial Death March have a much longer and trying day than most marchers out on the difficult terrain. These medics, several of them volunteers, help ensure the health of all participants and spectators throughout the day.
“Last year it was a lot cooler. This year we’re expecting more heat injuries,” said WSMR McAfee Commander Lt. Col. Elba Villacorta before the start of the march.
Villacorta said it takes months for them to prepare and coordinate for Bataan. She said their day started at 3 a.m. the morning of Bataan. Those who traveled up from Fort Bliss started their day at 1 a.m. A medic’s day usually does not end until the last marcher finishes.
The Bataan Memorial Death March is a 26.2 mile event held annually at White Sands Missile Range in honor of the individuals who survived and those who died during the World War II death march at the hands of the Japanese in 1942 on the Bataan Peninsula in the Philippines.
There are seven medical tents throughout the course plus the support of helicopter evacuation. On average there are about 30 medical personnel at each medical tent. This year there were over 400 medical volunteers. The volunteers range from civilian, military, and federal and state organizations from four different states.
“Our clinic cannot sponsor without the support of our volunteer physicians, nurses, EMT’s and first responders,” Villacorta said.
BorderRac Texas, DMAT, McAfee, and William Beaumont each provide medics throughout the course of the march. Most medical facilities use this event as a voluntary training exercise for the year.
“We get tremendous support from the medical side,” said WSMR Family, Morale, Welfare, and Recreation Director Steve Zagar. “Medics are a show stopper. If we didn’t have medics we couldn’t safely conduct this march.”
This year the medics treated over 1,300 participants. There were 7 medical ground evacuations as opposed to last year’s eight.
“Most of them want to finish and don’t want to be disqualified. Some are just not used to the altitude,” Villacorta said.
Ken Smith, who volunteered from UTAH DMAT said the main issues he sees throughout the trail is poorly fitted footwear, bad sock choices, and not drinking enough fluids. Smith said all shoes need to be broken in before a race, socks should be a polyester material, and people should wear two pairs of socks to prevent sliding and chaffing.
“It’s been the same as usual. A lot of blisters and foot care, and minor dehydration. There are tons of people who have dropped out,” Smith said during a midday interview the day of the event.
Smith said he expected more heat related injuries after midday because that is when the temperature begins to rise.
Smith has been volunteering for five years. Though the march serves as a voluntary training for Smith and many other volunteer medics, that didn’t seem to be the reason why any of the medics volunteered. In a social media profile, Smith said he had strong volunteer roots.
The last two marchers, who were wounded warriors, finished the course at 9:39 p.m. The medics were not released for the day until 10:30 p.m.