UPDATE: On December 16, 2020, the Project Atlas Rucks team arrived in Pagosa Springs, Colorado, completing their 1,000 mile journey. They surpassed their original fundraising goal of $16,000 and to date, have raised over $25,000 for the Special Operations Warrior Foundation.
On December 9, 2020, six members of the Texas A&M Corps of Cadets will begin a 1,000 mile “ruck march” across the southwestern United States. The ruck march will start in Zion National Park in Utah and continue east over the course of nine days, ending in Pagosa Springs, Colorado.
(Left to right) Bryce Buchanan ’23, Taylor Elliott ’21, Ethan Lochner ’21, Wyatt Vance ’22, Colton Kennedy ’23, Zachary Cross ’23
The cadets from Company H-1 will take time out of their winter break to conduct the march. The term “ruck march” refers to the rucksack worn on the backs of the cadets that holds their extra layers of clothing, food and water. In its fourth year, the Project Atlas Ruck March raises funds and awareness for the Special Operations Warrior Foundation (SOWF). The SOWF provides scholarships and educational counseling for the surviving children of Special Operations soldiers whose lives were lost in the line of duty. The foundation provides funding for college tuition, books, fees, room and board, and computers and printers, as well as fully-funded professional tutoring from kindergarten through college graduation.
This year, the cadets hope to raise $16,000 for the SOWF through their 1,000 mile ruck. In their fourth year of marching, the group has raised over $33,000 for the SOWF. This is the third Project Atlas Ruck March for senior Ethan Lochner ‘21. “The money raised through this march provides funding for college education expenses like tuition and books to the surviving children of those soldiers who were killed in the line of duty,” said Ethan, one of the six participating in this year’s ruck march. “Donations of any size are appreciated and a small donation goes a long way in helping us meet our goal and make an impact.”
Previous ruck marches have taken place in the Western United States during the students’ winter breaks. Two years ago, cadets marched from California to Oregon; last year, the cadets marched from the Grand Canyon to the Grand Tetons in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Weather and COVID-19 were determining factors in this year’s ruck march route. Cold temperatures and winter weather resulted in the group moving the route further south. The drier climate and desert-like conditions will benefit the cadets who camp outside for the duration of the trip. Though the group rarely interacts with others during their trip–an advantage during a global pandemic–this year’s route through very sparsely populated deserts provides more protection for the cadets against COVID-19. The cadets took great care throughout the planning of the trip to ensure adherence to state and county regulations and policies – especially with respect to COVID-19.
Each year the goal is to ruck 1,000 miles. It’s truly a group effort for the cadets, as each cadet will march one-sixth of the cumulative total of the route. A portion of the daily itinerary does include some driving of the support vehicle, but the 1,000 miles are accumulated based on the distances the cadets march.
Preparation for the ruck is a months’ long process. Members of the group, known as Project Atlas, are selected based on their physical ability to march and their ability to work as part of team, working collaboratively as a group throughout the 8 days. This year’s Project Atlas group is composed of two senior cadets, a junior cadet and three sophomore cadets – all from Company H-1 in the Corps of Cadets. The two seniors and one junior are all veterans of the ruck march.
That these cadets take on such a grueling undertaking during their holiday break is truly inspiring, and clearly indicates the level of dedication and commitment to service that they embody every day – as Aggies and as members of the Corps of Cadets. “Selfless service is a core value of Texas A&M and the Corps of Cadets,” says Brigadier General Joe E. Ramirez, Jr., Commandant of the Corps of Cadets. “I am not surprised that these cadets would give up their hard-earned winter break to march cross country to raise money and awareness for this very special organization. That speaks to the kind of selfless servants our cadets are, the values they embody every day, and the kind of selfless leaders they have become as members of the Corps of Cadets. More importantly, it says a lot about the quality of leaders they will be in the future, and the impact they will have on others as a result. I am proud of all of them and the way they are representing our university and our Corps.”
Additional information about the Project Atlas Ruck March, the Special Warrior Operations Foundation, and a link to give to the campaign can be accessed here.
Updates about the Project Atlas Ruck March will be posted on social media. Follow along at @aggiecorps on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, @tamucommandant on Facebook and Twitter, or @projectatlasrucks on Instagram and Facebook.
Project Atlas Ruck Itinerary
December 9: Complete hike through Zion National Park
Project Atlas at Zion National Park in Utah
December 10: Ruck March to Big Water, Utah
December 11: Ruck March around rim of Lake Powell, UT/AZ
December 12: Ruck March east of Page, AZ
December 13: Ruck March to Navajo National Monument, AZ
December 14: Ruck March through Monument Valley, UT
December 15: Ruck March through Mesa Verde National Park, CO
December 16: Ruck March through Durango, CO
December 17: Ruck March through Pagosa Springs, CO