By Lance Cpl. Eric Keenan, Defense Media Activity
MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Virginia -- A 105mm M101A1 Howitzer salute sent competitors racing on a muddy path and underbrush for the second annual Montford Point Memorial Biathalon at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia, July 25, 2014.
Marines with The Basic School, where newly commissioned officers go to learn the art and science of leading Marines, and weapons training battalion hosted the event to build camaraderie and teach Marines about their own history.
“It’s an event we do each year built on competition, teamwork and espirit de corps while highlighting the accomplishments of the Montford Point Marines,” said Col. Todd Degrosseilliers, the commanding officer of The Basic School.
The event honored the legacy of the Montford Point Marines and the challenges they had to face until President Harry S. Truman signed Executive Order 9981 on July 26, 1948, ending segregation in the uniformed services.
“The challenge I faced was being a black Marine,” said Richard H. Walker, a retired gunnery sergeant and original Montford Point Marine. “Back then we couldn’t even go to Camp Lejeune unless we had a white Marine with us.”
African American Marines were trained at Montford Point, Jacksonville, North Carolina, now known as Camp Gilbert H. Johnson, until Sept 9, 1949, when the United States armed forces integrated all service members.
“There was a new breed on the block, but that’s gone now,” Walker said. “You’re just a Marine.”
Competitors ran an estimated three and a half miles from the Montford Point trail head to the battalion’s Range 4.
Upon reaching the range, the Marines fired ten rounds in both the prone and standing firing positions. For every miss, a minute was added to their time.
After firing, the competitors ran back to the Montford Point trailhead, for an approximate total of seven miles.
“I look at the biathlon as a challenge,” said Sgt. Geoffrey Artis, a cyber network operator with The Basic School. “It shows me, no matter what goes on, there is someone who went through worst and they prevailed.”
At the close of the event, awards were presented to the top three finishing teams as well as fastest time and best marksmanship score during the competition.
The Marines were in high spirits in the aftermath and had a better understanding of perseverance in the midst of great challenges like the Montford Point Marines experienced, according to Artis.
“I think this gives the Montford Point Marines nostalgia and shows them where the Marine Corps is now and the positive effect they had on Marines,” Artis said.