Military Spouse inspires Hunter Family to keep calm, march on

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Dillon White
  • 432nd Wing and 432nd Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

Distance, time and the perceived duration of both are sometimes measured in memories. Some memories are collective, and can represent the hardships of a group of people.

One Hunter spouse recently taught her six siblings not only about the Bataan Death March, a memory recognized with an annual commemoration near White Sands, New Mexico, but encouraged each of them to walk in their shoes. 

Her encouragement, and the children’s milestones inspired an entire group of MQ-9 Airmen and family members to commemorate the memory of those lost in a similar way. 

The first steps of this virtual march began shortly after 1st Lt. Christopher, 50th Attack Squadron MQ-9 pilot, and his wife, Brittany, were notified of a deployment tasking; Christopher would be leaving in March. 

Making the most of the news, the two agreed it would be a good opportunity for Brittany to visit her immediate family in Missouri. 

However, the day after Brittany left, the Department of Defense implemented travel restrictions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Military members were not permitted to travel, delaying Christopher’s deployment. 

The couple considered rejoining each other at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina, but Brittany’s six younger brothers, aged 7 to 13, had been excused from school and at home with Brittany’s mother. 

“They are at a really small rural school, and about half the school district doesn’t have wi-fi,” Brittany  explained. “My mother wanted (my brothers) to be learning every day and not get behind.”

From 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Brittany tasked her brothers to work in pairs, rotating in teams through chores, handwriting, reading and physical exercise. From 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. they learned as a group. The lessons covered military history and included watching movies that recreated historic events.

During the first week of quarantine, the boys learned about the Holocaust. Brittany then led her brothers through classes on Pearl Harbor, Midway, and the Pacific Theater during WWII the second week, leading to the Bataan Death March. 

“They’re understanding a lot more about how, as bad and uncertain as it is right now, there were periods that were a lot worse for other people,” Brittany said. “I think this has helped them get through this.”

However, despite Brittany’s many lessons and stories, the boys didn’t quite trust they’d be put to her biggest test. 

“One day I honestly joked about it, because they were being difficult in class one day. I said, ‘if you keep it up, we’re all going to walk 60 miles.’ They were like, ‘what? You’re not going to make us do that.’” 

On April 9, the boys each walked seven miles.

“Two people would walk a mile and we would switch them out, and then they all did the last two miles, as a group,” Brittany said. “They started at 10 a.m. and they got done around 5:30 p.m. We wanted them to feel accomplished together.”

Brady, 7, shared his sense of accomplishment, along with his respect for those who had suffered in the past.

"What we are going through during the pandemic is definitely hard,” he said “I miss my friends and teachers, and being in school. When I was walking the 7 miles and learning about the Bataan I learned that what we are going through is nothing compared to what they went through."

With more than 49 miles walked as a group with the boys, Brittany set a second goal to meet the distance service members originally marched more than 70 years ago. To accomplish this, she enlisted her husband, and 18 family members and friends. The group walked more than 65 miles cumulatively.

This struck a chord with Christopher.

“I think during times like these, everyone is worried about a lot, and things we used to do fall to the wayside,” Christopher said. “Nationwide, the top memorial marches, like at Holloman [Air Force Base], are really part of the fabric of our community. They help people bond, experience something together and remember our history.” 

He quickly challenged the wingmen in his squadron to add distances to a spreadsheet from April 10 to 13. Before all was said and done, more than 150 Airmen and family members across the 25th Attack Group, headquartered at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina, laced up their shoes and trod onward. 

Christopher’s wingmen answered the challenge, they logged miles on treadmills, local streets and trails, despite the traditional Bataan Memorial Death March being cancelled due to the pandemic. 

The 25th ATKG logged nearly 800 miles in four days. Christopher said he was inspired by how many people participated and took the time out of their day to accept the challenge. Brittany's teaching, and motivation of her siblings during COVID-19 restrictions inspired Christopher to do the same for his Hunter family.

“She really made it happen and deserves the credit,” Christopher said. “I believe this march occurred at a time when our squadron’s morale was beginning to decline due to the many changes we have all endured due to the pandemic … it has been challenging for all of us. Brittany’s idea to host a remote Memorial Bataan Memorial Death March provided a perfect opportunity for the 50th, 482nd and 42nd Attack Squadrons to unite and work toward a common goal, feel a sense of community and reflect upon our situation to realize that we’ll all get through this together.”

The 50th ATKS plans to challenge their sister squadrons and host a virtual Bataan Memorial Death March next year.