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A March to Remember: OSU ROTC cadets participate in annual Bataan Memorial Death March

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Media Contact: Elizabeth Gosney | CAS Marketing and Communications Manager | 405-744-7497 |

Thirty-three students from Oklahoma State University’s Air Force and Army ROTC programs participated in the annual Bataan Memorial Death March on March 16 by ruck marching 26.2 miles through rural New Mexico. 

Cadets participated in the heavy category, beginning their training in October by carrying 35 pounds on their backs around OSU’s Stillwater campus and Boomer Lake Park. Air Force cadets began carrying — and marched with — 15-pound 4x4 pieces of wood for an extra challenge.  

“Stillwater doesn’t have mountains to train on,” said Lt. Col. Mike Cheatham, head of OSU’s Air Force ROTC unit. “We trained on a paved, relatively flat course, which was nothing like the loose gravel and mountainous terrain of the march. But when you look to your left and right and see others who are enduring the terrain, it makes it easier to push yourself and endure.” 

The Air Force ROTC program brought 21 cadets to New Mexico, all of whom finished the march. The group placed seventh overall and first among other Air Force ROTC programs. 

“The number of non-finishers for this event is staggering,” said Capt. Michael Vander Sys, Air Force ROTC operations flight commander. “There are helicopters and four-wheelers running all day to aid those who are unable to complete the trek. It’s truly incredible to see the endurance and resilience of our group. If they can push through this, they can do anything they set their mind to.” 

Cadets from the Army ROTC group placed fourth and seventh in their division. Capt. Burns Farley said that participating in extracurriculars like this march helps to build the ideal graduate.  

“For us, it is purely about the experience,” Farley said. “From training to competing, we are instilling strength and resilience in our future service members, which is critical for our overall mission. They are able to prove to themselves and their peers that they are capable and willing to put in the work for a cause.” 

Marchers participate in the event for various reasons. The march itself is intended to serve as a memorial to the WWII soldiers who were taken as prisoners of war by the Japanese in the Philippines and experienced the Bataan Death March in 1942.  

“The event evokes shared suffering for a good reason,” Cheatham said. “There is a symbolism behind it and that’s what we as leadership are trying to help guide them through. We want to convey to cadets that they are about to join a service that has a history to it, and we don’t want to forget what that history is.” 

OSU teams and individual cadets have been attending the march for years. In 2024, the ROTC programs had their largest turnout yet. Air Force ROTC cadet Amanda Eilerman marched for a family member who experienced the Bataan Death March. 

I felt incredibly compelled to honor him and the men who died on Shinyo Maru,” Eilerman said. “There was no better way to do that than to complete the Bataan Death March.” 

Air Force ROTC cadet Sydney Shearer crossed the finish line with tears in her eyes. She credits her success to taking criticism as a challenge.  

Many were worried that I wouldn't be able to complete the race due to my stature,” Shearer said. “While I appreciated their concerns, it also frustrated me a bit. I committed to myself that I would finish this race no matter what it took. So, I put my head down and prepared myself in every way that I could. 

“I not only completed the race, but I'd gone above and beyond by carrying the second heaviest pack our group had; I hauled 51 pounds through the desert. It was a bittersweet end to something I never thought I'd see myself do.” 

Before competing, the Air Force ROTC group visited Holloman Air Force Base. Cheatham said providing these experiences to cadets is typical, but the staff at the base went above and beyond.  

“When you think about the Air Force, it is so much bigger than just flying aircraft,” Cheatham said. “Exposure on these base visits really opens the eyes of our cadets to careers and opportunities that they might not even have realized exist. The vice wing commander spent nearly an hour with our cadets and answered their questions, which is a really big deal.” 

Learn more about the OSU Air Force and Army ROTC programs by visiting their websites.  

Story By: Erin Weaver, CAS Communications Coordinator |

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