Story by MAJ Keith Grant on 07/24/2019U.S. Army Reserve Staff Sgt. Nicole Verdugo of Duluth, Minn., recently earned the prestigious Norwegian armed forces skill badge for completing a grueling 18.6-mile foot march at Erbil Air Base, Iraq.
The century-old "Norwegian Foot March" is a test of endurance that members of the Norwegian military attempt yearly. International service members often attempt the challenge, and are authorized to wear the badge, if successful.
Participants must complete the entire 30 km distance within an allotted time period while carrying a 25-lb. rucksack. Verdugo covered the route in 5 hours, 13 minutes to earn the skill badge.
"I had wanted to try it last time I was deployed to Afghanistan," Verdugo said. "So I was really appreciative of the opportunity to do it here."
A graduate of Duluth's East High School and Lake Superior Community College, Verdugo is a logistics services soldier with the Florida-based 641st Regional Support Group. The 641st deployed to Iraq this spring in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, the 75-nation global mission established in 2014 in order to formalize ongoing military actions against the threat posed by ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
This is Verdugo's fourth overseas military deployment, having served in Afghanistan, Bosnia and a previous tour in Iraq.
As a civilian, Verdugo works in support of the Army Reserve as a Staff Operations and Training Specialist in Arden Hills. She's a San Diego, Calif., native whose family members reside in both California and Minnesota.
More than 150 service members from eight different countries assigned to Erbil Air Base attempted the foot march. Verdugo was one of just 82 participants who earned the coveted badge.
"I had wanted to do an Iron Man [triathlon] before turning 40," said Verdugo, who turns 40 later this year. "Since I'm deployed, the next best thing was to do this."
With average high temperatures hovering around 110 F in northern Iraq, the march was held during early morning hours. But the heat and her busy work schedule combined to keep Verdugo from going much further than four miles during her train-up. She thinks her daily job responsibilities on the air base, though, may have helped her preparation.
"I'm generally outside walking around, so I think that helped," she said. "And I'm also one of those people who decides to run marathons without any training."
Verdugo laughed at the irony of not having any Norwegians participating, but enjoyed taking part with numerous other Coalition members.
"It was cool to see the other Coalition soldiers out there," she said. "We would all give each other encouragement as we passed on the different laps. Country didn't matter, gender didn't matter, rank didn't matter. We were all out there doing the same thing."