Camp Arifjan, Kuwait –
Two Army Reserve officers deployed here with the 310th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) marched 50 miles in a Presidents Day homage to presidents Theodore Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy.
Lt. Col. Shane Cater, chief of the administrative law, contract and financial section, said he and Maj. Kyle “Dutch” Dietrich, a trial lawyer in the staff judge advocate section, began early Sunday morning and completed 41 miles before stopping until Monday morning.
To complete the trek, the men ran the last nine miles together on the track near their quarters for a total time of 15 hours and six minutes.
Cater said the two usually run the camp’s perimeter on Sundays, so the plan was to hike the same route until they reached 50 miles.
Minutes before their 3 a.m. step off, Dietrich said, “The loop is about six miles, so we’re going to do that a couple of loops, then stop for breakfast, then knock out a couple more.”
Dietrich said he got the idea while doing personal research into Kennedy’s life.
“I started reading a lot about JFK and stumbled upon an article of his, ‘The Soft American,’ from ‘Sports Illustrated’ in December 1961,” he said.
“I ended up reading that and he referenced Teddy Roosevelt, which intrigued me.”
President Kennedy wrote: “Of course, modern advances and increasing leisure can add greatly to the comfort and enjoyment of life. But they must not be confused with indolence, with, in the words of Theodore Roosevelt, ‘slothful-ease,’ with an increasing deterioration of our physical strength.”
Kennedy made the further point that out-of-shape Americans were a threat to national security: “Our struggles against aggressors throughout our history have been won on the playgrounds and corner lots and fields of America. Thus, in a very real and immediate sense, our growing softness, our increasing lack of physical fitness, is a menace to our security.”
Next, Dietrich said he read both Roosevelt’s strenuous life speech and the 1908 Executive Order 989, which directed all Marine lieutenants and captains to march 50 miles in less than 20 hours. The total duration cannot exceed more than three days. “Then, it kind of evolved into an idea of and taking the challenge myself.”
Cater stated after he read JFK’s “Soft American” article, he thought it was still important to encourage fitness for all Americans, not just Soldiers.
In the future, the lieutenant colonel said he wants to organize a 50-mile march when the command returns to home station in Indianapolis, Indiana.
“I’ve run marathons and done other things, but this is the most difficult thing I have ever done,” he said.
“The toughest miles for me were from mile 35 to mile 40,” he said.
“It was getting hot and I was getting a really bad heat rash,” the colonel said. “My legs were not as bad as I felt they were. I just kept going—just one more mile, just one more mile.”
Cater said during 15 hours of walking, he found himself in contemplation and prayer. “We talked a lot in the beginning, but towards the end, we barely said 10 words to each other.”
Roosevelt creates 50-mile test for Marine officers
President Theodore Roosevelt enacted the 50-mile hike requirement through Executive Order No. 989, titled "Defining the Duties of the United States Marine Corps," Dec. 9, 1908, as part of his setting physical fitness standards for the branch's junior officers.
Roosevelt wrote that field officers were required to ride horseback for 90 miles in three days.
"In battle, time is essential, and ground may have to be covered on the run; if these officers are not equal to the average physical strength of their companies the men will be held back, resulting in unnecessary loss of life and probably defeat," he wrote.
In the order, Roosevelt set out that the 50-mile hike test was to be conducted for all lieutenants and captains, once every two years, and would include three iterations of the double-time, first for 200 yards with a 30-second rest, then 300 yards with a 60-second rest and then another 200 yards. The president also directed that the 50 miles must be completed within three days under 20 hours of actual marching, including rest breaks.
Theodore Roosevelt V inspired by Cater, Dietrich’s completion of the 50-mile march
Roosevelt's great-great-grandson, Theodore Roosevelt V, himself an Ironman triathlete, said he was thrilled to hear two Army Reserve officers were taking up the challenge of the 50-march in honor of his ancestor.
“There is nothing better than pushing your body to the limit,” he said.
“President Roosevelt believed in the doctrine of the strenuous life; that our great national character was intertwined with our wiliness to exert ourselves physically. I also subscribe to this doctrine and believe these intrepid officers, Cater and Dietrich, will find great satisfaction and reward in their efforts.”
The financier and outdoorsman said his great-great grandfather’s emphasis on a vigorous life is part of why he remains current, while other presidents are forgotten.
“Theodore Roosevelt personified our shared American ideals of hard work, adventure and civic obligation. He was born in the Northeast but found solace in the Badlands of North Dakota. He represented both Northeastern elites and the Western cowboy with equal authenticity.”
The former Ironman said it is both a burden and a privilege to carry the name of the 26th president.
“It is a great honor to share my lineage with T.R. On the whole it is a pleasure. I am, of course, my own person and I don't wear a pince-nez and yell: ‘Bully!’ on the streets of New York, but I am also mindful of the name and what it represents to many,” he said.
Roosevelt said the two officers honored his namesake and made him proud of his forebearer’s legacy.
“I cannot imagine many better tributes to Theodore Roosevelt,” he said.
“I know he'd greatly appreciate the sentiment particularly as Cater and Dietrich are doing it in what I can only imagine is a difficult climate in Kuwait.”
The officer’s example is more than just an homage, it is an example for all Americans, he said.
“On a personal note, it is inspirational and makes me realize that while not in the military, I and others would benefit from doing the same challenge in tribute to the many officers that have served this nation.”
Bobby Kennedy helps JFK promote national physical fitness through Roosevelt’s example
Roosevelt and Kennedy aged 42 and 43 respectively upon taking office, both championed the physical exercise and vigor and Kennedy reached back to Roosevelt’s executive order after Marine Commandant Gen. David M. Shoup sent it over to his commander-in-chief with a memorandum about current Marine fitness programs and standards.
Kennedy replied with a letter dated Jan. 31, 1963 thanking the general and asking if his Marines could take the same 50-mile challenge as Marines in 1908.
A group of Marines took up the challenge Feb. 11, 1963 at Camp LeJeune, North Carolina, led by a 51-year-old one star, and all of them completed the 50 miles in less than 20 hours.
However, two days before the Marines took their crack at it, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, the president’s 37-year-old brother, set out on his own 50-mile challenge from Great Falls, Virginia to the presidential retreat at Camp David, Maryland, hewing roughly to the towpath of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal.
Wearing his dress shoes, the attorney general set out with an entourage of aides and Secret Service agents, followed by reporters and at least one news helicopter.
After 35 miles, the younger Kennedy was walking alone, and he called out to his last staffers to drop out: “You’re lucky your brother is not president of the United States.”
‘JFK 50 Mile’ race held every year along RFK’s route since 1963
Mike Spinnler, the director of the JFK 50 Mile race since 1993, said he is thrilled to hear that two Army Reserve officers are bringing the 50-mile march to Kuwait. The JFK 50 Mile has been held annually since the spring of 1963. The 2021 challenge is scheduled for Nov. 21.
“I think it is fabulous that these Army Reserve officers are taking on the Roosevelt-Kennedy Challenge! It would be great to see this tradition revived once again as Kennedy revived Roosevelt's challenge after a half-century,” Spinnler said.
“Over-achievers have always sought difficult challenges,” he said. “When someone with ‘that special something’ hears of this challenge, and the history of involved with it, it becomes very enticing.”
Spinnler, who won the race in both 1982 and 1983, said the organizers are especially welcoming to military participants.
“We emphasize the importance of the military participation in the JFK 50 Mile because of the deep military roots in the event,” he said. “It was originally a military challenge that then attracted civilians to also take-on the challenge.”
Military personnel can compete in teams,” he said.
“The Kennedy Cup is awarded to the winning military team at the JFK 50 Mile. Teams can consist of as many as ten individuals from the same military branch --either gender-- with the combined times of the first five finishers from each team being tabulated.”
Dietrich said he considers one day competing in the JFK 50 Mile race—depending on how he recovers from the 50 miles around Camp Arifjan.
“Well, you know, it depends on how this goes, but I’d like to go out and do it—convincing my wife to do it with me, maybe—that would be a challenge."