ARLINGTON, VA (Army News Service, March 19, 2008) — "Form it up!" Dennis McCool barked, dressed in an Army tracksuit as he positioned himself in front of a group of men and women outside American Legion Post 177 in Fairfax, Va., Sunday morning.
McCool, Carl Heerup and Marc Breslow were anxious to step off on the final leg of a 391-mile, 16-day journey from the North/South Carolina state line to the Lincoln Memorial.
The men, all Army officers who came out of retirement to serve a year in Iraq, shared a common goal - to garner support for the troops and their mission in Iraq.
The "Resolve to Win" march, as they have coined it, was born out of an exchange of thoughts and opinions among McCool, Heerup and Breslow during and following their tours in Iraq. They remembered how after the events of Sept. 11. 2001, the nation was united by patriotism and a resolve to defeat the enemy.
"There was electricity in the air, and there was a sense of support by people across America," McCool said. "That is what we wanted to see when we came home. That would have made us feel like America remembered that we are at war and young men and women are dying every day to defend our way of life."
Frustrated by the lack of support for the troops here, but heartened by successes they had witnessed in Iraq, the group resolved to, "complete a difficult task and create a dialogue about our national will to win," in Iraq, according to McCool. The task for three men, ages 51-60, was to march almost 400 miles in varying weather and terrain.
A small crowd of about a dozen supporters stopped milling about and formed a loose formation outside the American Legion Post. They were friends, family members and veterans from different walks of life and varying political opinions who shared a common purpose - to support the troops and leadership in Iraq. "You can't say you support the troops without also supporting their mission," Heerup said.
The end of the march coincided with the fifth anniversary of Operation Iraqi Freedom. While some of the marchers did not agree with the decision to invade Iraq, they all support victory there. Victory, according to McCool, "requires reconciliation among all the major religious and ethnic groups, manageable security and economic growth." All of which, the Resolve to Win core members believe, require persistent assistance from the U.S. and other members of the coalition.
Heerup, who did not support the initial invasion, said the U.S. has a legal and moral obligation to stay the course in Iraq. "This country needs to stand up and fulfill its responsibilities to the Iraqi people. We're doing that, but this country needs to let us keep doing it until it's done - until Iraq can protect and provide for its people as every government should."
Led by police escorts from Fairfax City and County Arlington County and the Park Service, the formation was able to move unhindered along Route 50. Marchers were armed with small American flags that they handed out to people at bus stops and street corners. As they shared the flags they shared their message.
Conversations flowed, and the group would occasionally break out in song. They sang the various service songs, "God Bless America" and at one point someone launched into a verse from Snow White, varying the lyrics to suite them. "Hi-ho, hi-ho, it's on a march we go." It kept their feet moving and the mood light.
At about the 12-mile mark, the group stopped for lunch, supplied by American Legion Post 177, in an Elks Lodge parking lot. McCool and Breslow lit up cigars, checked their feet and re-treated their blisters. Heerup took his boots off, settled into a camping chair and reflected on the previous two weeks with his friends.
The marchers stepped back onto the road after lunch with only 4.5 miles to go. "This is the home stretch," McCool said. "We are almost home."
Back on Route 50 drivers would honk their horns to show support. Each honk was met with a bellowing, "Thank you," and a wave from Heerup. Those were the people that did not need to be convinced, he said. The troops already had their support.
As they passed Arlington National Cemetery and neared the Memorial Bridge, the conversations and songs ceased. One marcher hummed "Amazing Grace" almost inaudibly. Many seemed to be lost in their own thoughts.
Once on the bridge, a few former Marines belted out the Marines Hymn, despite ribbing from the other veterans, most of who were Army. Then there was a flood of "Hooahs," as the objective came into site. "There it is, the Lincoln Memorial," Breslow pointed out.
With the Resolve to Win guidon in hand, Heerup, McCool and Breslow led the pack. They patted each other on the back and smiled broadly. Although their cause had not generated the national media coverage they hoped it would, they still felt a sense of satisfaction. "We did get some local attention, and spread the word that way," Heerup said. "We learned that those who truly believe in the welfare of the troops and veterans feel strongly that we need to complete the mission in Iraq. We inspired a number of people to continue the effort."
On the steps between the Washington Memorial reflecting pool and the Lincoln Memorial, the core group of Resolve to Win marchers: Dennis McCool, Carl Heerup and Marc Breslow, ended their journey, but urged listeners to continue supporting the troops.
"We talked about doing something to highlight the efforts of our comrades in arms, and this march is what came of that," Breslow said. "But know that although our march may have ended here, the resolve to win does not. We must tell people about the victories being achieved and the successes of our Soldiers in Iraq."
McCool, a Vietnam veteran, stood just a few hundred yards from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall as he spoke. "Americans do not have a positive image of Vietnam vets. It is very difficult for us to be proud of our service when America feels that way," he said. "We did this to make sure that these young men and women serving in Iraq do not have to face that same stigma. They have earned the victory, they have paid the price and they have made the sacrifices. We must allow them to come home victorious. We have to be their voice, and we have to ensure they are allowed to achieve victory."
All three men plan to continue garnering support for troops serving in Iraq. McCool said people could show their support through veteran service organization memberships, becoming part of the teams that work daily to support the troops and their families. Heerup added that continuing publicity of their march and events like it will keep the issue on the forefront.
One veteran's organization that participated in the march, Gathering of Eagles, has proposed a follow-on march from the Pentagon to Ground Zero in New York that would coincide with the Sept. 1, 2001 remembrance.
"This is the next great generation, those men and women serving today," McCool said. "We have to remind people of that any way we can. They are the smartest, best-trained, best-equipped, most highly motivated force we've ever had. Get out of their way and allow them to do the job."
For more information about "Resolve to Win" go to ResolveToWin.US.