GLENS FALLS, N.Y. – New York National Guard volunteers joined hundreds of military family members, community supporters and gold star families for the annual Christmas Eve road march to support military personnel serving overseas during the holidays.
The march was first conducted in 2004 when Soldiers of the New York Army National Guard's Company C, 2nd Battalion, 108th Infantry, were deployed in Iraq.
A local recruiter, Sgt. 1st Class Arthur Coon, and his wife, Julie, coordinated for other Soldiers assigned to the armory in Glens Falls, the 466th Area Support Medical Company, to conduct a road march in their honor.
Over the past 20 years, Coon has enlisted the support of many of the Soldiers he enlisted.
"When you are in the military, you are part of a family group," Coon said. "And when you enlist a Soldier, they become a part of your own family."
Ten Soldiers participated in the first event, and it has grown into the thousands.
"Of all the miles you will walk this year, I'd say that these four at the road march will be among the most important," Coon said. "These four miles aren't about you, or I; they are about those who are serving far from home ... or those who have gone before us ... or just in the memory of those no longer with us."
The march has become a tradition to recognize the sacrifices made by all American servicemen and women who are on-duty away from their families during the holidays.
"I carry dog tags representing the five Soldiers I have lost, and while some days the weight of those is heavy, most days it helps see me through and accomplish missions such as the road march," Coon said. "I do many things in their honor, not seeking their approval, but seeking to justify how blessed of a life I have been given."
"We come together to send a message to those deployed that we remember them instead of staying home sipping hot chocolate," he said.
Many of the marchers have ties to veterans or military families and are part of the wider community network of support for troops.
"Marching with friends, family and the surrounding community is so great because it reminds me how much our Soldiers are loved and also how much support there is on the home front," said Anna Leone, a volunteer with a military support network in Glens Falls. "Deployments aren't easy, but the march really reminds me of the hard work our troops are doing overseas for us and our country."
Others participate in honor of past service members, recalling veterans who came before.
"I started coming six years ago when my dad, an Air Force veteran, passed away," said Melanie Howard, a resident of nearby Hudson Falls. "I've been coming ever since in his memory."
The community effort also encourages donations for care packages to be shipped to troops overseas and provides participants with awards for key contributors.
The road march recognized the largest group, heaviest ruck for both male and female marchers, largest family and largest donation for care packages, Coon said.
Supporting area units of the New York National Guard that regularly participate included Soldiers and vehicles from the 466th Area Medical Support Company and 1427th Transportation Company, both stationed at the Queensbury Readiness Center. They were joined by Airmen from the 109th Airlift Wing from Scotia, N.Y., and the 42nd Combat Aviation Brigade Headquarters, based in Latham, N.Y.
"This is my second time participating in the march," said New York Army National Guard Spc. Hunter Bates, assigned to Company D of the 3rd Battalion, 142nd Aviation Regiment, based in Latham. "Everyone came with great Christmas spirit to support those who cannot be home today."