MSHA Corporate | News Article

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

IS team member honors fallen vets, Gold Star families with grueling Mountain Man Memorial March

Gary Hamilton (with flag) poses with some of his Mountain Man Memorial March teammates at the Gatlinburg event.


Over the course of several months, Mountain States team member Gary Hamilton took his buddy “Sandy” for regular walks and jogs as they prepared for the 10th annual Mountain Man Memorial March in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.


The team competed in honor of fallen Spc. Josh Lancaster, whose photo they displayed on the back of their packs.The march, sort of a combination running race, military long march and fundraiser, supports Operation Enduring Warrior, which honors those who lost their lives in military service, and their families, known as Gold Star families. Gary entered the full-marathon Heavy March event – meaning each participant wears a 35-pound backpack for the entire 26.2 miles.


During those training walks and jogs leading up to the Mountain Man March, Sandy didn’t say much, but he and Gary got to know each other very well. Sandy, after all, is a 50-pound sand bag. Gary nicknamed the bag he carried on his back as part of the training regimen, doing hikes and walking on the treadmill with the Sandy slung over his shoulders.


The training paid off. Hamilton, who works in the information systems project management office for Mountain States, completed the Heavy March on April 22 as part of a five-person team. His team marched in honor of Spc. Josh Lancaster, who was killed in action, and each member wore a photo of Lancaster on the back of their pack.


“It was very tough,” Hamilton said. “We all encountered some physical setbacks at some point. However, we drew strength from Spc. Lancaster, the Gold Star families and each other. When the going got tough, we dug deep and drew inspiration from knowing for who and why we were doing this. But we do events like this to bring awareness to the cause, and not for personal recognition.”


Gary with his training buddy, 'Sandy'The MMMM, as it’s often called, also chose to donate $5,000 to the East Tennessee Red Cross to be earmarked for the Sevier County fire relief after the devastating wildfire that hit the area over the winter. The organization also took matching funds from participants in the march. They were donated directly to the Gatlinburg Fire Department and Gatlinburg Police Department.


Hamilton comes from a military-minded family. A long line of family members served, including his father, grandfathers, cousins and uncles. One uncle was a Silver Star recipient. And Gary is drawn toward grueling, long-distance events. He did the Mountain Man Half Marathon (heavy division) last year and also did a 16-mile, Go Ruck Tough event led by Special Forces. He also does 15 to 20 Spartan, Tough Mudder and road race events each year.


He called this year’s Mountain Man the toughest thing he’s ever completed.


“We got blisters and kept on going. Enduring the physical pain of a blister or muscle cramps is nothing compared to what Gold Star families endure after the loss of a loved one, or what military families endure daily serving and sacrificing.”


Gary first met one of his team members at last year’s Mountain Man, staying in touch via Facebook, and eventually became part of this year’s team that was organized online, so technically most of the team hadn’t met each other until race day – although they all stayed in touch online during the months of training leading up to the march.


The route consisted of paved road, gravel road and other uneven terrain, and has a mix of flat stretches, rolling hills and steep climbs. Water points, snacks, medical aid and support staff were positioned and available along the route, but competitors still carried food and drink with them.


Each team member carried a 35-pound pack plus the weight of food and water they would need during the march. The team stayed together throughout the walk, and race rules dictate that all team members must finish within 20 seconds of each other. The team aspect, and the weight carried with the backpacks, are important in the military, symbolizing the weight of carrying a downed comrade and of never leaving anyone behind.


Asked what the main things are that he’d like people to know about the Mountain Man March, Hamilton said, “No. 1, never forget. Whether enduring distance away from families while deployed, or enduring a loss of a loved one, our American heroes need support. No. 2, by being a part of a team and overcoming struggles, you learn so much about yourself. And 3, challenging your perceived limits makes you grow as a person.”


NOTE: Even though the 2017 Mountain Man Memorial March is finished, people are still encouraged to donate. The money will go to the American Legion Post #2, located in Knoxville with the support of a wide variety of community groups, military organizations and local business. For more information on the march or to make a donation, visit