ARLINGTON - Honor. Tradition. Pride. More than 40 cadets in The University of Texas at Arlington's ROTC program will embark on a 126-mile march to Killeen's Fort Hood on March 13 because of those ideals. The trek commemorates the 50th anniversary of a similar journey in 1960 from what would become UT Arlington.
UT Arlington cadets formally set out at 5 a.m. Saturday, March 13, from Maverick Stadium, making 25-mile legs each day. The march concludes Wednesday, March 17, at Fort Hood's north gate, near Gatesville. A send-off event is scheduled from noon to 1 p.m. Wednesday, March 10, at the E.H. Hereford University Center mall.
Maj. Gen. Edward Farrand, the post commander at Fort Hood, inspects the cadets after their 160-mile trek from Arlington State College in 1960.
In 1960, a handful of cadets marched to Fort Hood from what was then Arlington State College in a show of support for the college, which was evolving from a two-year institution to a full-fledged, four-year university. That ROTC class would be the first to participate in a collegiate Army training summer camp at Fort Hood in Central Texas.
"There's a bit of a debate as to whether the march was ordered or volunteered," said Retired Col. Joel Ward, one of the original marchers who later taught military science at UT Arlington and led the University's ROTC program. "For me, when I got to Vietnam and was in combat and had completed the march, I knew how far down I could reach and maybe reach down even further."
Retired Major Gen. Will Latham, then a captain and an assistant professor of military science and tactics at Arlington State College ROTC program, said cadets weren't required to do make the trip, but volunteered.
"Now some cadets might have been encouraged to do it," Latham said.
The Long March served as a motivational tool and source of inspiration for the two-year college cadets who were transitioning to a four-year institution, Latham recalled.
"I knew those cadets would be thrown into competition with Texas A&M, the University of Texas and New Mexico Military Institute," Latham said. "They expected to hold their own, so we needed a way to pump up their confidence."
This year's march will call on the same motivation, participants say.
"It's a pride that's bigger than you," said Cadet Erik McCaffrey, who with his fellow cadets has been training with shorter marches for months. "You're doing something for the unit, for ROTC and for the university. It makes me proud to be from UT Arlington. It also makes me proud that we might share something with that group of 50 years ago once we finish the march."
Cadet Richard Ramos said the commemorative effort is about honoring that legacy, but also a test of endurance.
"Soldiers are encouraged to think, ‘You can always die, but you can never quit,'" Latham said. "These cadets are becoming those soldiers."
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