MOUNTAINS-TO-SEA TRAIL, N.C. --
After approximately two months, a journey that began with a few reserves yet started without hesitancy, came to a close, having braved a host of events ranging from a herd of elk to a retired commandant of the Marine Corps.
Fortunate Sons, the group of active-duty Marines that embarked on a 1,000-mile journey on foot across North Carolina, recently met their finish after hiking from Clingman’s Dome in the Great Smoky Mountains in Western North Carolina, Oct. 2 to the Jockey’s Ridge State Park in Nags Head, Nov. 13.
“The scope of endeavor was so large, when we concluded planning for the hike, everything and anything could have gone wrong throughout,” said Capt. Mark Greenlief, commanding officer of Company E, Infantry Training Battalion, School of Infantry – East. “A lot of people had their reserves about our success, but it turned out better than we had planned.”
Greenlief, along with 17 other Marines of Company E, hiked the Mountains-To-Sea trail; approximately 1,000 miles of hiking path passing through 37 counties. Under the moniker of Fortunate Sons, the Marines were able to garner awareness and support for the Semper Fi Fund, the driving force behind their hike.
“The idea was originally to have Echo Company hike for fun, and Capt. Greenlief suggested we do it for a cause,” said Staff Sgt. Jeremiah Johnson, company gunnery sergeant for Company E. “With that, we organized as many events as we could along the way of the trail.”
And so, with six teams of two with six others on stand-by, Fortunate Sons made their way across the state, striding an average of 150 miles per week. Eleven events were held throughout the hike, most notably one that brought out a former commandant to show his support.
“We met Gen. (Carl) Mundy in Waynesville at a Marine Corps League function one night,” said Sgt. Andrew Liming, an instructor with Company E. “Then from places like someone’s house to a town winery, we stopped and talked with everyone, sharing stories and making friends.”
During the hike, the Marines were not left to their own effects to brave the 1,000 miles of varying ecosystems and climates. From word-of-mouth and widespread distribution of the hike’s information, the Marines were lauded with professional hiking equipment, donated by a variety of sporting wear outlets. From $175 pairs of boots, $25 pairs of socks and custom-fitted hiking packs, Fortunate Sons hit the trail with not only a confident mind, but also with the gear to back up the motivation.
“We were able to see virtually every aspect of North Carolina, but that trail was no joke,” said Johnson. “One day we were going up cliffs with 100-foot drops right next, and another day we walked into a clearing with a herd of elk grazing not three yards away from us.”
However, the Marines collectively agreed that the main focus of the hike, as well as the most beneficial aspect, is the people that came out to show their support, even if to just render a greeting.
With the hike completed and the message of the Semper Fi Fund spread, the Marines of Fortunate Sons do not look at this event as a fun break from the norm, but something that has immense potential to become an annual occurrence for a variety of charities.
“It is never a bad thing to support Marine Corps-related charities, but being Marines does not prevent us from focusing our efforts to outside organizations, such as the Make a Wish Foundation,” said Greenlief.
One thousand miles might have seemed like a monumental task in the beginning, but after accomplishing their goal as well as lay possible groundwork for the future, the Marines of Company E are not only training the privates and privates first class of the Infantry Training Battalion, but also aiding those less fortunate who might not even wear the uniform of the Marine Corps.