The Annual University of Southern Indiana Norwegian Foot March.
(Also known as the Road March)
By Dr. Nils Johansen
The Norwegian Foot March or Road March badge (in Norwegian Marsjmerket) is a Norwegian Armed forces skill badge.
It was created in 1915 for the purpose of exposing new soldiers to the conditions one might expect as a soldier in the field. The rules for obtaining the badge makes this clear. A soldier in full uniform, boots and with an 11 kg pack, which would include the rifle, would move a distance of 30 km (about 18.6 miles) within a certain time: 4 hours and 30 minutes. A few extra minutes would be allowed for older participants. The rules also stated that the soldier should be able to fully participate in regular duties the following days.
It often, at least in the army, became a part of the training included in boot camp, that magic period that turns a civilian into a soldier.
To explain how the Foot march ended up at USI, let me run through my own story about marsjmerket.
I was admitted to the Norwegian Army Field Artillery Officer’s School in the summer of 1960. We had an abbreviated 8-week boot camp, a high stress period to “wash out” candidates who were deemed unsuitable. The Road march was part of this and I succeeded in getting the badge. I was in reasonably good shape physically. I had many miles of cross country skiing in the winters and orienteering springs and falls.
I passed and was accepted as a cadet that fall. We carried the rank of corporal. After graduation we would be promoted to sergeants and would serve as a sergeant for at least a year or in the case of going into the reserves after 6 months of active duty, after the first recall to active duty for training be promoted to second lieutenant.
I then went off active duty and started my engineering studies, two years in Norway, and then on to Purdue in Indiana. The month before I left, I snagged an assignment as a senior sergeant with the boot camp school again, it was summer and with my experience I could fill in for vacationing personnel.
During my years at Purdue, I got my Bachelor, Masters and Ph. D. Afterwards I landed a job as a professor with the Mining School at the University of Alaska.
I had started working with the ROTC group at the University of Alaska and participated in several annual marathons, so I was in good shape physically. I then decided to continue to work towards Norwegian Army skill badges that I could do in Alaska. The two badges were the physical activity badge (idrettsmerket) and marsjmerket. These badges did not need participation in an event, but all that was needed was a certification that I had completed the requirements, and the ROTC commander was glad to do so. Since you can only qualify for the badges once per calendar year, I did the training on my own, and sometimes had one of the cadre accompany me on the event for record. I would then write my regiment and get a badge for him.
When I retired from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, I had completed 22 marathons and gotten the idrettsmerket and marsjmerket in gold signifying having completed the requirements for the badge 8 times. At that time, there was a ribbon that came with the badge and also the badge as a full size medal rather than the miniature version you normally received. (This medal policy was changed about 2005, but since I had already retired as a reserve officer in 2001, we were permitted to wear the decorations we had had we retired.)
I came to USI in 1995 upon my retirement from Alaska, and when the ROTC started at USI, I learned that the commander was a fellow field artillery officer, and I came over to his office to “say hi” to Major Mark Weaver. During one of our meetings the talk came into military skill badges and we both had an aha moment, here was an activity that could be used by the ROTC cadets. It was not a straight forward effort to get approval, we actually did the first event with the support from the local Army National Guard battalion, 163 FA. I had cleared the events with the Office of the Chief of Artillery in Norway and later the Norwegian Embassy in Washington D. C.
From an early small group start, the event has grown in popularity over the years, and the last several years we have had hundreds of participants from ROTC detachment in the mid-west and active duty, guard and reserve units from all over the eastern two thirds of the country. We have had individual participants from as far away as Korea, and also made arrangements to sponsor the event at unlikely places such as in Jordan and at Guantanamo Bay and in South Korea. Personally, I have made arrangements with a veteran’s support organization in Colorado, in San Diego, and once with a Utah National Guard Special Forces unit training in Montana.
This second of November 2019 we are having the 18th annual foot march here at USI. It is an event that I think has drawn attention to USI and Evansville that we otherwise would have missed out on. As part of the event, we encourage the participants to fill the 11 kg pack, essentially 25 pounds, with non-perishable food items that in turn is donated to local veterans’ support institutions.
Nils I. Johansen