FORT BRAGG, N.C.— A Catholic priest now holds the record for the fastest 12-mile foot march by any Soldier ever to graduate from the U.S. Army’s elite DeGlopper Air Assault School. Father Luke Willenberg, CH (CPT), USA, Second Battalion Chaplain of the 3rd Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division’s 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, completed the pre-dawn trek on Feb. 19 in one hour and forty-two minutes (1:42), breaking the long-standing record by a full seven minutes.
For Chaplain Willenberg, 34, who serves on active duty with endorsement and faculties from the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA, the foot march was the final endurance test in a grueling, ten-day training course, subjecting him and his classmates to everything from time-competitive rappelling—including a 90-foot “Hollywood Rappel” out of a hovering UH-60A Blackhawk helicopter—to the challenge of mastering the practical skills required to call in air support, order a 9-Line MEDEVAC, or guide a landing chopper with arm and hand signals.
One-hundred Soldiers pre-screened into the training, known as “the ten hardest days in the Army,” but only 65, including Father Willenberg, survived to march on graduation day. Weighed down by helmets, full battle uniforms, and 35-pound rucksacks, the survivors set out at 3:00 a.m. in the winter cold, rounding two six-mile loops, with steep hills at turnaround points, Father Willenberg leading the way across the finish line well before sunrise, setting both a physical and spiritual example.
“I hope I can inspire and motivate some of my Paratroopers by my achievements,” Father Willenberg said. “But in the end it is not about running or foot marching—it is about giving God praise and glory, and striving to be the best we can be in everything we are doing and by doing so bring people nearer to Christ. It is about placing our lives at the service of God and others. It is Christ who gives us hope and makes us better people. It is Christ calls us daily to be the best we can be, and find ways to help others be the best they can be. St. Catherine of Sienna once said, ‘if you are who God created you to be, you will set the world ablaze.’ That’s what I am trying to do, every day as a Catholic priest, Chaplain, follower of Christ and human being.”
Ordained in 2008 for the Diocese of Providence, R.I., Father Willenberg joined the Army in 2014. During a twelve-month deployment to Afghanistan with the 10th Mountain Division that year, he organized a “Boston Marathon” at Bagram Air Base in commemoration of the 2013 massacre. Father Willenberg was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for his service in Afghanistan, making his champion performance in the DeGlopper foot march only the latest of his achievements.