CAMP BONDSTEEL, Kosovo – More than 580 multinational service members from all across Kosovo gathered Oct. 10 at Camp Grand Danois, the Danish camp inside Camp Novo Selo, Mitrovica/Mitrovice, for the first of three Dancon Marches scheduled to be held this autumn.
More than 100 participants were from Multinational Battle Group East, with additional U.S. service members representing the U.S. Air Force, Marines and Navy participating as well.
The U.S. service members joined their Danish hosts and participants from Armenia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Poland, Sweden and others, as well as members of the Kosovo Police and European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo for the grueling journey through the Kosovo countryside.
The Dancon March is a tradition for Danish soldiers wherever they are stationed, and has been held every year since 1972. The march consists of approximately 26 kilometers (about 16 miles) of trail, the terrain varying based on the area in which the march is held. Dancon Marches have been held in Kosovo since Danish soldiers became involved in KFOR in 1999, and are held in other theaters as well.
Each participant is required to carry a minimum load of 10 kilos (about 22 pounds) for the entire march, and has a maximum of eight hours in which to complete the course. Some iterations of the Dancon March involve distances of up to 100 kilometers (62 miles).
“It is not a competition in the normal sense,” said Danish army Lt. Col. Jens Peder Nyrup commander of the Danish KFOR contingent, “but it is a competition with yourself. First and foremost it is a social event. It is a chance for you to enjoy the benefits of exercise with soldiers from all over the world.”
“The march invites foreign troops, allied with Denmark,” said Danish Master Sgt. Torben Christenen, welfare officer, “to participate in the 25 or 100 kilometer march. Marches have taken place in Cyprus, Croatia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan.”
Sgt. Carlos Rodriguez-Reyes, A Company, 296th Infantry, was the first member of MNBG E to finish the march, seventh overall. Rodriguez-Reyes, Las Piedras, Puerto Rico, a member of the Puerto Rico National Guard, finished the 26 kilometer course in just under three hours, with a time of 2 hours, 59 minutes.
“The biggest challenge was the hill,” said Rodriguez-Reyes. “It was hard. Very hard. I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it in under [three hours, fifteen minutes].”
The 296th was well-represented on this day, as the second finisher from MNBG E was also a member of A Company. Staff Sgt. Ismael Rodriguez-Rivera, Ponce, Puerto Rico, finished the course with a time of 3 hours, 15 minutes.
“It was a challenge,” said Rodriguez-Rivera, a member of the Puerto Rico National Guard. “My expectation was to do it in under four hours. I expected it would be a little easier. But I will come back and do it in November with more practice and more conditioning, so hopefully I will do it under three hours.”
Rodriguez-Reyes, Rodriguez-Rivera and all other participants who completed the course in less than eight hours received the Danish Contingent March Medal, a bronze-colored, circular medal with red and white-striped ribbon, which may be worn on the Army dress uniform.
There are two more Dancon Marches scheduled in Kosovo: Nov. 6 and Nov. 21. These are expected to be the final Dancon events in Kosovo, as the Danish contingent of KFOR is expected to withdraw from the region in the near future.