National Guard keeps ‘rucking’ for Dana-Farber

For years, a staple of the holidays at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute has been the arrival of soldiers from the Massachusetts Army National Guard Officer Candidate School (OCS), with hundreds of toys in hand for patients in Dana-Farber’s Jimmy Fund Clinic. The soldiers march up to 10 miles through the streets of Boston, with rucksacks full of toys, to help spread hope and happiness to our youngest patients.

This year, COVID-19 has created an array of obstacles for the OCS Program and their training, as it has for everyone. An added challenge was changes to this beloved holiday tradition: Due to limitations in Dana-Farber’s visitor policy and concerns with physical toy donations, the OCS Program pivoted to help the Institute differently this year.

In lieu of toys, the soldiers gathered together to raise funds for Dana-Farber and the Jimmy Fund, and individually “rucked”—marched with weighted rucksacks—for 10 miles on Saturday, December 12.

“We decided to move forward with an alternate, virtual event because our partnership with DanaFarber is important, and it’s our duty as future leaders to serve our community and our country,” says Dan Costello, Officer Candidate. “Being there for the community is the at the core of what being a National Guard soldier is, and that’s especially true in a year that has seen so many people face setbacks and loss. Our challenge was how to safely maintain the service to the community, the relationship with DanaFarber, and the feeling of joy a gift can bring in trying times.”

The OCS class completed their rucking individually or in small groups, showing perseverance through these new obstacles—just like the perseverance and spirit found every day in the Jimmy Fund Clinic. This year’s rucking took on extra meaning for several of the Officer Candidates, who have recently had loved ones affected by cancer.

“Our class is a team, and when one soldier experiences hardship we all work together to bring them up,” Officer Candidate Costello says. “Our ability to serve others by supporting a commendable charity is particularly meaningful during the holidays. It means a great deal to everyone that we could participate in a tradition that has a personal impact on the soldiers that executed it.”