Ernst marches with excellence at Bataan and life

Sgt. 1st Class Todd Ernst, a 52-year-old range control noncommissioned officer in charge at Training Center Command, finished first out of 32 ruck marchers in the Individual Military Heavy over 50 category at the Bataan Memorial Death March marathon, held at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, March 25.
The 26 1/2-mile memorial march is conducted annually in honor of the heroic service members who defended the Philippine Islands during World War II, sacrificing their freedom, health, and, in many cases, their lives.
Ernst was 25th overall out of 520 finishers in the Individual Heavy Military race with a time of 6 hours and 45 minutes. The average finish time was over nine hours to give some perspective.
This was the second time he’d run the race, wearing a 35-pound ruck sack and full military uniform. Last year’s initial run was at the urging of his daughter, 2nd Lt. Jessica Ernst, a patient administration officer with the Wyoming Army National Guard Medical Detachment. She invited her dad to join her as she and her team of senior cadets with the University of Wyoming ROTC program were going.
“It didn’t take too much convincing when I said ‘let’s ruck it together,’” Jessica said of what turned into a family affair. “They said let’s do it.”
So father, mother Carla, who competed in the half marathon, and son, Hunter, who was a freshman in the ROTC program last year, got some good boots and started training.
“There’s a lot of healthy competition in the family,” Jessica added with a smile.
Jessica was unable to compete this year as she was at a military training school until a few days before. “I told them ‘go have fun, I’ll watch the dogs.’”
So, Todd, Carla and Hunter did it again this year. Todd finished eighth last year and was hoping to get in the top five in the over-50 this time around.
“Just finishing is pure bragging rights. It’s fun training, but not fun doing,” Todd said. “When you finish, you really feel like you accomplished something. It’s not just a marathon; it’s rugged terrain and dirt and sand and tank trails and up and down, and this year we had Wyoming wind gusting hard and blowing dirt around. The good thing is it was a little warmer, so we didn’t have the wind chills. It’s really about doing your best and enjoying the camaraderie and finishing healthy and injury free.”
Ernst has been in the military 17 years and at the Laramie County Assessor’s Office in Cheyenne, where he is a field appraiser supervisor, for 25.
He works out 3-4 days a week year-round, and starts rucking in December twice a week averaging around 7-10 miles a day.
“He’s definitely a special soldier. He’s your traditional 300 APFT (Army Physical Fitness Test) scorer every year,” said Maj. Michael Fields, his commander at Training Center.
“He’s the go-to guy up here when it comes to weapons platforms. He knows the ranges inside and out and he’s always willing to share his knowledge. We really appreciate it on the full-time staff, as he has our utmost confidence to carry that to the traditional soldiers on drill weekends.”
“I have a sense of duty and honor and commitment, whether training or on the job, “Ernst said. “I try not to bring too much of my military leadership style into work, even though I have three Air Force retirees that work for me. I guess it kind of goes hand in hand, but I definitely put two hats on.”
Ernst said he hopes to compete in at least a couple more Bataan’s before his son commissions and he hangs up the uniform, and not just for the competition.
“There are a ton of great moments,” he explained. “It’s such a great time, so patriotic. The opening ceremony is spectacular. You listen to the survivors talk the Saturday before the race, and watching our wounded warriors. I had some great friends show up and they did the civilian individual heavy. This year, my son and I met some British soldiers they were a very interesting group. My son has two more years at UW so I would like to do it a couple more years. I have around three years to retirement so it should work out pretty good. I will have to see at that point if I want to go civilian heavy.”
As for lieutenant Ernst—“I have no idea if I’m going to do it again,” she said. “They’ll probably convince me. We’ll see.”

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