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Posted: May 19, 2017 11:57 a.m.

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Hunter hosts Dahlke Memorial Challenge

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Competitors in the four-hour race begin the challenge with a sprint around the perimeter of the Lotts Island driveway.

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Seventy-four competitors braved the stormy weather on Hunter Army Airfield Saturday to test their land navigation, kayaking, bicycling, running and problem-solving skills. They were also there to honor their fallen friend, Staff Sgt. Jason Dahlke, in the Memorial Energy Adventure Challenge which bears his name.
 
The 29-year-old squad leader was killed in combat by enemy fire in 2009, while deployed to Afghanistan with the 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment at Hunter Army Airfield.

Many competitors on the two-member teams had a personal connection with Dahlke, including Sgt. First Class Dominic Annecchini, a 1-75 Ranger and his teammate in the first Energy Adventure Challenge at Fort McAllister on May 30, 2009. The two Rangers won the event just a few months before Dahlke died.  With the Family’s permission, the event sponsor, David Ackerman, changed the name of the event to the Dahlke Memorial Energy Adventure Challenge to honor the fallen hero.

“Jason was such a beast,” said Annecchini. “When I was selected to be his partner, I remember thinking, oh my God, what have I gotten myself into.  Jason basically dragged me along. He was ungodly strong; even for a Ranger.”

Ackerman said the adventure challenge is one of the latest competitive trends to test mental and physical strength. Event day at Hunter included two competitions – a two hour race for less experienced competitors, and a four-hour bracket for more serious, highly-skilled athletes. The four-hour land trek is approximately four-six miles, biking is 12-15 miles and kayaking, one-two miles. The two-hour race uses the same course but does not include kayaking.

All participants were issued maps and a clue sheet at the beginning of the race, which, along with a compass, assisted in collecting passports at 20 checkpoint locations, where they had to perform surprise challenges at some of them.

Lotts Island race winners in the long race competition were Gerald Young and Jonna Reinhard; the short race winners were Mike and Sarah Squires.  Both teams demonstrated superior strength and stamina by collecting the most passports in the least amount of time.

Roger Dahlke, Jason’s father, reflected on his son’s level of fitness and the speed with which he and Annecchini collected the passports.

“I’ve been told that when other teams came in, Jason was sitting on a bench drinking a beer,” he laughed. “He was that far out in front of his competitors.”

“This race always brings tears,” Roger continued, “but it’s wonderful that my son is remembered by so many who compete and by the fantastic volunteers who help to make this happen.” 

Those volunteers are members of the Sua Sponte Foundation, a registered 501c3 charity.  Ed Durham, Sua Sponte Foundation chairman, leads the group in assisting Families of the First Ranger Battalion.  His group also organized and prepared food, drinks and helped with facility and equipment procurement.

“We provide services for Rangers that others do not,” he said, “including scholarships and support to Gold Star Family members.”

Jason’s stepmother, Tessa Dahlke, is also an active participant in supporting Rangers.  She started ‘Walk a Mile for a Ranger,’ in 2011 to raise money for the Sua Sponte Foundation.  She began walking four miles a day after her stepson’s death as a way to “quit moping, get off the couch and do something positive to help others.”

“Power walking has helped me heal,” she said.  “So far, I’ve raised over $35,000 for the Sua Sponte Foundation.”

Others also said the adventure challenge has helped them heal, including two former Rangers who served with Dahlke.  Brian Shreve and Greg Bucchner, have competed in the event for the last five years and said they were blessed to have the annual event to remember their mentor and friend. They also enjoy the competition among Rangers and are proud of their second-place win two years ago.

“I fly in from Colorado every year to compete,” said Shreve. “It’s grueling but it’s worth it.”

“I was a private when I served with Jason,” said Bucchner. “He was smart, strong, and was all about teaching and helping me. I feel blessed to be a part of this.

Former First Ranger Battalion Chaplain Maj. Mark Winston officiated Dahlke's funeral in 2009 and was present to compete in the short run with his wife on Saturday.  Before the race began, Winston spoke about Dahlke and offered a prayer.

“Nothing good in life comes without a price,” he said. “Jason paid that bill for us. His life has blessed our Nation, our Families and the Ranger Regiment.”


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