USS Germantown Sailors ‘Run the World’ as One Honors a Trail
Sea breeze at their backs; gritty texture of a non-skid flight deck gripping the soles of their shoes; sweat pouring into brightly colored physical-training uniforms.
Sailors aboard the amphibious dock landing ship USS Germantown (LSD 42) are putting in miles and miles of work as they run from sunrise to sunset, each pushing beyond personal barriers to complete Germantown Runs the World (GRTW), a running event set to spice up exercise aboard the warship.
GRTW, a months-long event with more than 90 members of Germantown’s crew participating, has Sailors running between 10 and 15 miles per week between virtual real-world locations, each participant logging his or her miles for the duration of the warship’s current patrol. During the first week of the event alone, Germantown Sailors ran more than 2,000 miles collectively. They run on the flight deck, in the well deck and on treadmills to complete and log their miles.
“Last patrol, our underway schedule shifted a lot due to the uncertainty of COVID-19 and that stress started to build up for me and a lot of crewmembers,” said Lt. Megs Barron, from Plymouth, Ind., Germantown’s assistant operations officer and GRTW organizer. “Personally, I wasn’t doing enough to stay in shape during the last underway when off-ship opportunities became restricted to the ship. My level of fitness took a serious hit and COVID-19 may have been an excuse to put on 19 pounds!”
Barron said that when the ship returned to homeport in Sasebo, Japan, earlier this year, the crew had to learn to live through a health crisis with the coronavirus taking hold in Japan. For Barron, that meant setting new fitness goals for herself and taking into account specific goals set aboard Germantown by its commanding officer, Cmdr. Christopher Causee, for their upcoming patrol.
Barron said Causee challenged the crew to put 100 percent of their efforts into the things they can control, and to maintain a positive attitude, striving harder each day to be better than the day before. Barron said she believes there’s no better way to get after that challenge then to set high fitness goals while learning about amazing virtual locations, and having fun while developing healthy competition.
“With the Navy’s physical fitness assessment cancelled for multiple cycles, we needed to find programs that could help relieve stress and keep us in shape,” Barron said. “GRTW became an exciting way to improve our fitness and has relieved some of the stress that has been building up due to all of the restrictions we are faced with during the current pandemic.”
Barron said it has been especially tough to find motivation since the Department of Defense instituted travel bans in early 2020 due to COVID-19.
“That hit especially hard for us when there are so many incredible destinations to see throughout Japan,” Barron said. “Even if we can’t physically visit these locations, at least we can keep the spirit of traveling Japan alive as we virtually run throughout the country through GRTW.”
Barron explained that two destinations are set each week during GRTW, and information for the various cities or landmarks is provided to the crew, giving them some background about where they are running virtually.
“It’s two birds with one stone,” Barron said. “We get to exercise, and we have fun tracking our miles as we ‘travel’ throughout the world.”
Barron said she hopes Sailors realize that running is an accessible type of exercise at any fitness level. Given enough time and motivation, she said Sailors can look back at the accumulated miles they have run over the course of a few months and recognize how achievable an actual destination run or marathon can be.
“Ever since beginning to train for marathons, I have noticed myself becoming so much stronger mentally and physically,” Barron said. “The running has helped me tremendously and I wanted to share that feeling with everyone on Germantown. Running is hard, but as I keep knocking out mile after mile, I become so motivated. Setting a goal and checking it off after completing it feels so good. I feel like I can take on any hardship afterward, like nothing can get in my way.”
Sailors are not only running between destinations in Japan during GRTW. The crew was also encouraged to set personal challenges to run a distance that has hometown connections.
Electronics Technician 1st Class Matthew Dallis, from Exeter, is a member of the Cherokee Native American Nation. He chose to honor his family’s history by virtually running the Trail of Tears, a forced migration of Native Americans that saw almost 60,000 members of several tribes relocated from southeastern U.S. states to areas west of the Mississippi River between 1830 and 1850 by the U.S. government. More than 4,000 people died attempting to make the journey.
“I was born in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, the headquarters for the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians, and attended a Cherokee elementary school,” Dallis said. “I was learning the language as a child and I learned so much of our history from my mother and my grandmother, who is a full-blood Cherokee.”
Dallis said he’s always wanted to run the whole trail and experience first-hand a crucial part of his family’s lineage. Every year his family gets together for a reunion at a park at the end of the Trail of Tears and they walk the last seven miles of it together. Dallis said it’s always been his family’s way of remembering the incredible struggles his ancestors had to go through. Being forward-deployed to Japan meant Dallis wasn’t able to be there for this year’s reunion.
“It’s crazy to think that I am able to find a way to participate in my family tradition in my own way while out to sea on Germantown,” Dallis said. “My run during GRTW will take me the distance of the Trail of Tears between Missouri and Oklahoma in 70 days, more than 419 miles total once complete, or about six miles a day for me currently.”
While Dallis admits it’s been tough to run all of those miles in such a short time span, he said it puts his ancestors’ experience in clear perspective for him.
“Comparatively, my personal challenge is exceptionally easy when compared with what my ancestors had to go through,” Dallis said. “I’m not carrying my entire life packed up on my back as I run on the ship like members of my tribe had to do when they walked the Trail of Tears. I’m not forced to face death and disease, watching people fall from exhaustion around me the way that my ancestors were forced to.
“It’s mind-boggling to think how difficult it was on the trail. Of the Cherokee Tribe alone, more than a quarter died during the march. If I can remember their sacrifices and the incredible tenacity it took to survive the Trail of Tears, I can complete this challenge I set for myself and honor my heritage in my own way.”
Dallis’s story is just one of more than 60 that Sailors have expressed, challenging those Sailors to be better than they were the day before. Barron said she recognizes incredible dedication in Sailors like Dallis as they continue to run while Germantown sails through the U.S. 7th Fleet area of responsibility.
“You may not get the open road like you would at home, but instead you get a 360-degree view of the ocean, doing your laps on the finest amphibious ship with a motivating crew and the satisfaction of completing personal fitness goals underway,” Barron said. “Few people can say, ‘I went running on a warship today.’ It will always be an awesome experience. It’s all about keeping a positive attitude, dedicating efforts to the things you can control, and challenging yourself with finding the motivation to keep propelling you forward.”
Sailors aboard Germantown will continue to log their miles for the next few months as they continue to participate in GRTW, each step a milestone in its own right as they balance exercise with the constant dedication and professionalism required of forward-deployed U.S. Navy Sailors.
Germantown, part of the America Expeditionary Strike Group, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit team is operating in the 7th Fleet area of operations to enhance interoperability with allies and partners and serve as a ready response force to defend peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region.