On May 16, active-duty and veteran U.S. Marines from units stationed around the globe gathered in Camp Pendleton, California, to participate in the annual Recon Challenge.
The Recon Challenge is an endurance event that takes participants through numerous tests inspired by the Reconnaissance Marine training and operational history. There is, for example, a grueling 30-mile ruck made while carrying more than 50 pounds of gear, a one-mile swim, an obstacle course, and marksmanship tests.
Marines formed up and competed in two-man teams, with each team representing a fallen Marine by wearing his name on their rucksacks. Upon crossing the finishing line, the teams hung their fallen brother’s dog tag on a makeshift combat cross as a final testament of remembrance.
This year’s challenge, which was the 11th, had 22 regular teams and one unique team comprised of 13 men.
The challenge was co-funded and co-organized by the Marine Reconnaissance Foundation (MRF). According to their website, the MRF aims “to provide both ad-hoc and long-term support for the Reconnaissance Marines and the U.S. Special Amphibious Corpsmen [SARC] deployed abroad, their spouses and their children.”
But aside from remembering fallen brothers-in-arms, the challenge also has another function: giving purpose to veterans. A former Recon Marine described this aspect of the challenge most eloquently in an inspiring post on the event’s Facebook page:
“This year was different for me from any other year, while on active duty I always wanted to get out front and prove that I could do what I was expecting my Marines to do. I thrived off the pain, misery, and suffering that this challenge forces you to endure whether you like it or not and I missed the since of comradery [sic] that I had become so accustomed to while on active duty. Running as a civilian this year reinforced the fact in my eyes that the Reconnaissance Man needs something in our lives that continually pushes us beyond what we think is possible to maintain some since of balance in our lives. I did not run to win this year, I ran to find some clarity and clear my mind of all the things we hold onto that distract us from our purpose in life. The pain I endured along the route reminded me that I’m alive and I need to take advantage of every opportunity to bond with friends and share my experiences with others in the hopes that I might help someone that is struggling to find that balance. The Recon Challenge is the only time we have the opportunity for our past, present, and future Reconnaissance Marines to come together at one location and reconnect with old friends make new ones and inspire the next generation of Reconnaissance men to strive to uphold the traditions we have earned with our blood, sweet, and tears.”