Super troopers set to take on 23 marathons; SQUADDIES TO COVER 548 MILES TO RAISE CASH FOR CHARITIES.
MARCHING is part of daily life for soldiers.
But these super-fit squaddies are taking on a mammoth challenge - to march a marathon, every day, for 23 days covering a total distance of 548 miles. The soldiers, from 72 Engineer Regiment (Volunteers) based at the TA centre in Debdon Gardens, Heaton, Newcastle, are marching around the boundary of the 15 North East Brigade area.
The challenge, called Exercise Tyne Agmen, will take the regiment as far north as Berwick and as far south as Sheffield, travelling through Tyneside, Northumberland, Durham, Teesside and Yorkshire. The challenge will end with the Great North Run, the world's biggest halfmarathon, on September 19.
The soldiers were cheered off on the first leg of their march just after 11am this morning from outside the Sage Gateshead, accompanied by the music of the 102 Battalion Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers Pipes and Drums band.
Crowds of people lined the Quayside and VIP guests included the families of some of the region's soldiers who have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Ann Turner, mother of Rifleman Mark Turner from Sheriff Hill, Gateshead, who was killed in Afghanistan earlier this year, and her friends and family were joining the soldiers to march part of the route.
"We are doing 14 miles from Newcastle to Whitley Bay," explained Ann, speaking to the Chronicle before she set out. "There are about 12 of us doing it.
"I am feeling ready for the challenge, it means a lot to march along with them."
A gun salute sounded as the regiment took their first steps over the Millennium Bridge, heading east along the river.
The soldiers, who have been split into teams, will arrive into Ashington tonight after almost 29 miles of marching. And to mark the first leg of the hike, another team from the regiment is taking part in a charity football match.
The Michael Sweeney Memorial Cup competition, which kicks off at 3pm, is in memory of Guardsman Michael Sweeney, from Blyth, who was killed in Afghanistan in April this year.
His grieving mother, Kim, said: "The soldiers will play as one side, and the civilians will play on the other. We have Glenn McRory as our celebrity player, and Sir Jack Charlton is presenting the cup."
The game is the first in a series of charity events taking place in a bid to engage the community as well as raising cash for five charities: the Army Benevolent Fund, the British Limbless Ex Servicemen's Association, the Great North Air Ambulance, the Yorkshire Air Ambulance, and Macmillan Cancer Support. This morning at the Quayside, activities included a climbing wall, military vehicles and kids' minesweeping game, which will remain on offer until 3pm.
A Balls in the Tyne competition saw people racing footballs down the river between Newcastle Gateshead's iconic bridges.
Tomorrow, the regiment arrive at Alnwick castle, where they will take part in a tug-o-war with Northumberland firefighters, while on Monday, they will take part in the Glendale Show.
Along the rest of the route, they will also take part in golf matches, cricket matches, school open days - and perhaps even appear in TV show Emmerdale.
Warrant Officer Class two, Karl Yellop, is helping organise the march.
"It is primarily about engaging with the local communities across the Brigade area over the 23 days," he said.
"We're also hoping to raise money for the five charities. The exercise has taken a lot of organisation, but we are hoping it will prove popular."
For more information about the challenge, contact the regiment at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0191 265 3232.
MATCH: Gdsm Sweeney's parents Kim and Michael and brother Sean Afghanistan; right, Spr Scott McKelvie of the 72nd Engineers prepares boots for the 550-mile march