- Albuquerque, 02JUN12
- Operation Skywalk is a challenging march held the first Saturday of every June along the length of the Sandia Mountains of New Mexico near Albuquerque. Elevation ranges from a low of 6,377 feet at the Tunnel Springs trailhead in Placitas, where the march commences, to over 10,500 feet at the crest. The march concludes at the South Crest trailhead of Tijeras at around 6,700 feet. The combined gain and loss of elevation is over 10,000 feet. Approximate distance is 26 miles.
The closest approximation to Operation Skywalk is the Bata’an Memorial Death March (held annually since 1988 at the White Sands Missile Range near Las Cruces, New Mexico). The Bata’an Memorial Death March commemorates the sacrifice of thousands of Filipino and American POWs during WWII on the Bata’an Peninsula (pronounced BA-TA-AN). Due to rugged conditions, vicious treatment, and lack of food and water, approximately 5,000-10,000 Filipino fighters and 600-650 American fighters died on the march. Many were killed for attempting to escape or for being unable to keep up with the group. Many died of heat stroke. My father, 16 at the time, remembers Japanese guards slapping away water that villagers attempted to pass to the soldiers along the road.
Operation Skywalk commemorates the death of an American soldier, Colonel Ted Westhusing, who died at a secretive training facility in Iraq on June 5, 2005. Like our brothers in the Philippines, he could keep up physically and was highly trained, but he could not keep up with the desecration of his values. He could not keep pace with the indignity and dishonor he encountered while serving in Iraq. But in commemorating the life and death of one man, we commemorate many – for there are many of us “warriors with Westhusing.”
This year’s Skywalk will be held on Saturday, June 2, 2012. Participants are encouraged to depart the Tunnel Springs trailhead in Placitas (just past the community library and fire station turn right on Tunnel Springs Rd.) no later than 7:00AM in order to avoid finishing in the dark. The Ojo del Orno shortcut, although steep and rocky, is recommended. To take it, bear right up the large and obvious canyon some 100 feet from the trailhead. After a little under a mile, you will rejoin the Crest Trail. Make a right and continue climbing. Carry plenty of water to make it to the top (12 miles) where you will have opportunities to replenish your water at either the tram station or the Crest House. Average time for completion of the hike is between 12-14 hours. Make shuttle arrangements if you are unable to be dropped off in Placitas and must leave your vehicle. Keep in mind that temperatures at the crest can be as much as 30 degrees lower than at the trailhead when considering clothing.
Proceeds from Operation Skywalk will go to Listening Horse, a free horse therapy program in Santa Fe dedicated to the recovery of afflicted and recovering veterans.
A $20 donation will be solicited from those who are able to make it to the South Crest trailhead and complete the march before 8PM. Those who wish to contribute and who would like a t-shirt may choose one. Those who wish to contribute to Listening Horse but do not wish to participate in the march can do so by sending a check directly to: Listening Horse, 3237 Rodeo Road, Santa Fe, NM 87507. Those who complete the march after 8PM are encouraged to start earlier in subsequent years. Dogs are welcome but should be well-conditioned and well-watered. Booties are recommended for rocky sections of trail.
Private queries can be directed to myself at email@example.com. Public queries can be made in the comment section of this posting.
- Col. Ted Westhusing with an Iraqi child