CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. --
As the morning sun began to rise on the Chickamauga National Military Park, the Marines and sailors of Battery M, 3rd Battalion, 14th Marine Regiment, assembled on the hallowed grounds of this hotly contested Civil War battlefield to reflect and to bond.
Better known as Mike Battery, members of the unit saw the hike symbolically as the first steps toward healing, the first steps toward getting back to the mission and the first steps toward showing the world that the recent attack on their unit had made them stronger.
Just four days prior on July 16, 2015, the Marines of Mike Battery were conducting maintenance and accountability of gear following their recently completed Annual Training Exercise at 29 Palms, California. At approximately 11:20 a.m., a lone gunman crashed the entry control point of the Naval Operational Support Center and Marine Corps Reserve Center, in Chattanooga, Tenn., and proceeded to open fire throughout the compound, killing five service members.
It was a defining moment for the men and women present. While the nation reflected with shock and outrage in the aftermath of this unimaginable tragedy, the Marines and sailors of “Pale Horse,” a name given to the battery during its participation in the battle of Fallujah in 2004, had already begun to heal.
The idea to bring the battery to the Chickamauga battlefield was that of Col Joe Russo, the commanding officer of 14th Marine Regiment.
According to Russo, as he drove to Chattanooga from the Atlanta airport in the immediate aftermath of the attack, foremost in his mind was the care of the families of the fallen, and the esprit and mindset of the Marines and sailors of the battery.
“I passed the National Military Park sign on the highway and it just jumped out at me that we needed something unique, something special that would rally the men and women of this battery,” he said.
The National Park Service offered the expertise of its senior tour guide, and the battery conducted a three-hour hiking tour of the surrounding battlefields. It provided an opportunity for the Marines and sailors of the battery to think and reflect about the valor and sacrifice which occurred there over 150 years previously, and to contemplate their own experiences. The impact was both inspiring and bonding.
The hike ended at the culminating point of the battle on Horseshoe Ridge, a landmark which saw intense hand-to-hand fighting. A single granite monument slammed the past into the present – etched on the face of the stark memorial the words “Battery M” stood out in relief. In surreal correlation to the attack just days prior, the monument honored four fallen artillerymen of Shultz’s Battery M, 14th Union Corps.
The symbolism was not lost on the men and women of the present day Mike Battery. At the monument, the Marines paused to honor their own fallen brothers with a moment of silence and a pledge that they would never forget their sacrifices.
“We all wanted to protect our own last week, so the heroic acts that took place were truly selfless; we all wanted to go back in for a lot of reasons -- we don’t leave anyone behind, whether killed or wounded,” said Cpl. Matthew Hampton, a Reserve motor transport chief, with Battery M as he described the attack that occurred only a few day earlier. “The drive to go back in there is instilled in all of us.”
Other Marines noted that the act of conducting a unit event like battlefield hike represented a mutual desire for Mike Battery Marines and Sailors to get back to their mission.
“We really want to get back to work for our fallen brothers,” said Lance Cpl. David Jeswald, a motor transport mechanic in the battery. “We want to uphold what those we lost represent, stay strong and not let them down.”
Sgt. Amanda Vincent, an administrative specialist with Battery M searched for the silver lining in a tragic situation.
“Whatever comes out of this, we are all going to become stronger and closer because of it,” said Vincent.
As the Marines and sailors of Battery M, 3rd Battalion, 14th Marine Regiment, assembled on the grassy fields of Chickamauga, a sense of mission, of purpose, and of pride in the valor of their fallen brothers bridged a century and a half of history. The Marines and sailors of Mike Battery made it clear that they were moving forward and that the legacy of the events of July 16, 2015, would be that of honor, selfless courage, and the strengthening of a proud battery of tested and proven Marines.