The inaugural Harlem Hellfighter 5K run was held here on June 2, 2017.
“It was an awe inspiring event to see close to a thousand people running through the streets of Camp Arifjan support of the storied tradition of the Harlem Hellfighter that reaches back over 100 years, and continues to grow to this day,” said Col. Stephen Bousquet, the commander of the 369th SB.
The unit was founded in 1913 as the 15th Infantry Regiment of the New York National Guard. When the unit was called into service for World War I, the primarily African American unit was forced to fight under French Command due to the segregated U.S. Army of the time. The unit was given its famous nickname, “the Hellfighters,” by their German opponents for the ferocity with which they fought.
The unit spent 191 days on the front lines, more than most any other unit, never lost an inch of ground to the enemy, and never lost a man to capture. In 2015 Sgt. Henry Johnson was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for single-handedly fighting off an enemy raid while severely wounded, and saving a fellow Soldier from capture.
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“I wanted to come up with an event that would focus on our unit history and focus on our birthday. A lot of people don’t know the Harlem Hellfighters and their story in WWI, WWII, the gulf war, and our current deployment,” said Sgt. Raymond Guzman, the organizer of the event, with the 369th SB. “Just by having the event named after the Harlem Hellfighters, I’m sure that out of the 700-plus people that were there, some of them will go back and Google the name and see the history.”
Guzman, an NYPD Officer and Bronx, N.Y. resident, hopes this race will be the first of many to come and intends to continue the tradition once the unit returns to New York after its deployment.
Not only for the organization and past members, but for future members and especially for the residents of Harlem. Harlem is changing and not a lot of people know about our armory down on 5th Ave. so it would be good to have the residents come out to see what we’re about and see a little bit more about the Army, and just see what the Harlem Hellfighters are all about.
“I want to make it an annual thing. It’s an inaugural one here, but I want to make it an annual thing back home for the US Army, for the 369th Sustainment Brigade, and for the New York Army National Guard,” said Guzman. “Not only for the organization and past members, but for future members and especially for the residents of Harlem. Harlem is changing and not a lot of people know about our armory down on 5th Ave. so it would be good to have the residents come out to see what we’re about and see a little bit more about the Army, and just see what the Harlem Hellfighters are all about.”
Staff Sgt. Mitchum Vanrooyen, with the 369th SB, the first Hellfighter to cross the finish line and 5th finisher overall, the event is not just about honoring the past, but building on the present.
“These runs build cohesiveness. Seeing the Colonels there and the Sergeants Major there was actually motivating for a lot of us. It gave you that extra push that you needed,” said Vanrooyen, a Jamaica, N.Y. resident.