The Ruck Rules: Walking for the Fallen
The logistics are pretty simple: strap a rucksack weighing a minimum thirty-five pounds on your back and walk for 26.2 miles. Matt Primrose knows its much more complex than that, both in terms of physical endurance and the reasons why he's doing it.
Primrose is leading a team this Saturday in Concord, Massachusetts in support of the Military Friends Foundation, a nonprofit based in Massachusetts formed to assist America's fallen military and first response service personnel. The foundation is sponsoring the Tough Ruck, a marathon-length event open to everyone aged 18 and over in four specific divisions: military heavy, military light, civilian heavy or civilian light. All participants must carry a rucksack weighing at least 35 pounds (weighed at the beginning and end) and finish in nine hours or less. The course is approved by the Boston Athletic Association and all those who successfully complete the course receive official Boston Marathon Medals.
The Military Friends Foundation was established shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and has provided millions of dollars in support of families who have faced hardships related to military and first response service along with offering grant programs, community building events and case management.
For Primrose, the cause hits home. The New Hampshire native has worked off and on for the last decade both with various social service agencies and independently in the southwestern New Hampshire region helping veterans in need, whether it be through counseling, help with seeking employment or getting secure housing. Primrose knew it was important work but realized it centered on a specific group of people rather than all those who could use the help.
"First responders help a ton," Primrose says. "They do so much work around us every day and don't get anything at all for help, not like the military does." Primrose noted that while he enjoys financial benefits from his multiple combat tours in the Army (Bosnia, Afghanistan, twice in Iraq) first responders don't enjoy the same support. "I can't tell you how many times I've seen families of these guys have to start Go Fund Me campaigns to pay for funerals and stuff like that. It's really sad." The Military Friends Foundation, says Primrose, is working to give those in need more assistance, financially and otherwise, and with this mission in mind runs several events each year, one of which is the annual Tough Ruck Race.
As Primrose and other event veterans can attest, the course is no light task and represents a steep physical challenge even for those at healthy fitness levels. "Last year, my legs were smoked, my hands swelled up by the end and my feet got ripped up pretty good," says Primrose. "They were hamburger by the end. I couldn't wear closed toed shoes for a long time." Primrose, a graduate of Monadnock Regional High School in Swanzey, New Hampshire, was an all-state runner prior to his military career, earning multiple honors in high school and a regular participant in numerous local races after he graduated. Nearly two decades past all that, Primrose admits his back, feet and knees aren't the same as in those days but says he is more prepared this year than last, having trained more consistently in the past few months in preparation for the event.
Primrose's goals this year are modest but clear. "We want 16, 17 minute miles and hopefully finish in seven and half hours or so," he says. "That would be a pretty good showing." But above all, Primrose says, is the reason why his team will be there in the first place--to honor the memory of all those Primrose and his teammates lost. His rucksack features thin yellow ribbons, each hanging vertically and labeled with the names of those deceased comrades he walks for this weekend, people with whom Primrose once served but now reside solely in the memories of those who knew them and their sacrifice. Primrose's team is officially called "2/22 Infantry" in recognition of the unit he served in during his Army career, the "Triple Duece".
Primrose admits he feels his competitive nature seep to the surface as he and his team have pushed to raise thousands of dollars over the last few months in a variety of ways. "I just want to raise as much money as we can, hopefully more than anyone else. That's it," he says. "I honestly don't care too much how it's done. I don't mind having a good time or making a spectacle of myself in order to get it done." Primrose in particular has taken various approaches to getting people to donate money. He cut his beard live on Facebook during halftime of a New England Patriots game, a move which garnered $5,000 alone. This winter, many of the customers he snowplows for paid him in donations rather than regular payment. He's received tremendous financial support from local businesses and professional contacts in his local area. As of this week, Primrose hit the $20,000 mark for individual donations (his team has raised close to $70,000 so far), a milestone he promises will get him a "specialty" haircut for what he calls "Operation Mohawk". Primrose does not consider himself a salesperson but his push to generate donations for the Military Friends Foundation certainly paints a different picture as he demonstrates a willingness to do nearly anything in order to generate support for the event.
In between the fun and generosity rests the cause, the reason why he and others participating Saturday are showing up at all--for those who can't, both now and in the future. "We've had a good time doing some crazy stuff to raise money, that's for sure," he says. "But we never forget why we're doing it. The work this group does is really necessary, really important and we can't give up trying to keep the help coming. It's that simple, really."
There is no doubt this cause registers on a deeply personal level for Primrose, who joined the Army shortly after graduating high school, eventually winding up in Bosnia as part of a multinational peacekeeping mission, then in Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks. Eventually, he served two separate tours in Iraq before returning home to New Hampshire and starting his life up again, trying to figure out what he wanted to do. After working in construction for awhile, he wound up working for two different social service agencies, helping veterans secure housing and employment along with many other related needs. He is now a manager at Mint Premium Carwash in Keene but still keeps his passion for helping others who serve close. "I would love to get something like this in New Hampshire, absolutely. There's really not much here compared to other states when it comes to support for those who lose family members in the line of service. This is a need and I plan on trying to figure out how to fill that need."
If you would like to donate to Primrose's team (Team 2/22 Infantry), go here.