‘Mandatory Fun’: Bad Weather Makes a Long Day Longer for Washington National Guard

November 10, 2022Jenna Biter
Washington National Guard Rainier Stampede run

Soldiers with the Washington National Guard participate in the first Rainier Stampede at Yakima Training Center, Washington, on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Adeline Witherspoon. Bus photo courtesy of a Washington Army National Guard soldier. Composite by Coffee or Die Magazine.

A surprise snowfall and spun-out cars on a mountain pass made an already extra long all-hands drill weekend even longer for Washington Army National Guard soldiers.

More than half of the soldiers in the Washington Army National Guard reported to the Yakima Training Center in the middle of the state Saturday, Nov. 5, for a special Guard-wide drill weekend officials dubbed the Rainier Stampede.

Officials said the Stampede was planned to coincide with Veterans Day and to foster “unified purpose, direction and motivation.” The all-Guard gathering began with a 3-mile run led by the Army Guard’s commanding general, which was slated to start at 10 a.m. That meant soldiers coming from the Seattle area and elsewhere around the state had to report to their home units for early morning bus rides to Yakima, which is in the south-central portion of Washington.

Washington National Guard run

All Washington Army National Guard units throughout the state gathered for a 3-mile run led by Brig. Gen. Daniel Dent, assistant adjutant general of the Washington National Guard, on Nov. 5, 2022. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Adeline Witherspoon.

About 3,700 soldiers traveled to Yakima for the event, a Guard official said. Roughly 5,800 soldiers make up the entire Washington Army National Guard, which includes the 81st Stryker Brigade Combat Team.

Along with the full-formation run led by Brig. Gen. Daniel Dent, the Stampede included lunch, resource booths, presentations by Washington Guard historians, and fitness and rock wall climbing events.

Most soldiers were scheduled to leave Yakima around 3 p.m.

But for several busloads of soldiers headed back to Seattle-area bases Camp Murray and Joint Base Lewis-McChord, that departure time put them on Interstate Highway 90 just as a major snowstorm covered a key mountain pass.

The snow quickly caused accidents that made the road impassable. Summer Derrey, a spokesperson for the Washington State Department of Transportation, told Coffee or Die Magazine that Snoqualmie Pass, which climbs more than 3,000 feet through the Cascade Range, closed from 4:02 p.m. to 5:31 p.m. — just as hundreds of Guard soldiers were on the road.

As a result, many buses waited hours on the pass while others turned around and drove back toward Yakima to take a longer, more southern route home.

Karina Shagren, a spokesperson for the Washington Military Department, told Coffee or Die that the exact number of buses delayed wasn’t known.

“I don’t have an exact number — but we do know some were already on the pass when it closed down, which unfortunately delayed travel,” Shagren said in an email. “Fortunately, Snoqualmie Pass isn’t the only route home. Many soldiers were re-routed over White Pass.”

Washington National Guard run Rainier Stampede snowstorm

A picture provided to Coffee or Die Magazine by a Washington Army Guard soldier from Snoqualmie Pass, Washington, on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022. Several buses of soldiers, including those pictured, were stuck on the pass returning from an all-hands Guard weekend in Yakima.

One junior enlisted soldier told Coffee or Die that the delays made a long day longer. His day started, he said, by waking up at 2:30 a.m. for a 4 a.m. formation at JBLM. After a nearly four-hour bus ride to Yakima and the Stampede’s day of events, the soldier’s unit loaded up for the ride back toward Tacoma at about 4 p.m., slightly later than planned.

The convoy of buses headed west on I-90, back the way it came, toward Snoqualmie Pass.

“That’s where it really started hitting the fan,” the soldier said.

The convoy was roughly 30 minutes into its trip home when a sergeant who had already driven through the pass texted about the looming closure.

“We thought it was a joke, honestly,” the soldier said. But within seconds, official notification arrived: The pass was closed. “Are you effing kidding me?” he said. “All right, here we go.”

Snoqualmie Pass closure

Traffic camera screenshot of the summit at Snoqualmie Pass, Washington, on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022. Washington State Department of Transportation photo.

The soldier said the buses turned around, returned to Yakima, and headed to US Highway 12 through White Pass.

“Definite morale killer,” the soldier said.

The detour turned a three-hour trip into four hours, which the soldier said was less of a delay than soldiers had to contend with on the buses that had left Yakima on schedule and ended up stuck on Snoqualmie Pass.

“They got to leave [Yakima] on time, which was probably bad timing for them,” the soldier said.

The soldier said his convoy was back at JBLM around 8 p.m.

Shagren said she was at the summit of Snoqualmie Pass when it closed. “I happened to be driving over the pass at the same time and was at the summit when it closed,” Shagren said. “My travel was delayed maybe 90 minutes.”

State road officials said Snoqualmie Pass received 8 inches of snow on Nov. 5 and 6. “For that specific situation, it was closed for ill-prepared drivers, spin-outs, and collisions,” she said. “You just couldn’t get through.”

Snow had also closed the pass for eight hours the day before, Derrey said.

Reports of delays emerged on social media from accounts claiming to belong to Washington Guard soldiers.

Reddit user Yankee_bayonet, who posts anonymously but regularly discusses Guard issues on the website, posted on the r/nationalguard subreddit about his day: “All in all, and accounting for the 4 [a.m.] formation time and the fact that most people didn’t make it home until 9-11 [p.m.], it was a longer than necessary day of mandatory army fun.”

But at least two soldiers seemed to have a different perspective.

“I think everyone just needs to embrace it,” Sgt. 1st Class Mathew Doornbos said in an Army-produced video of the event. “This is where we come from. This is our roots. Doing a huge muster, all the troops coming together. It’s your brothers and sisters.”

Washington National Guard run

Soldiers with the Washington National Guard stand in formation at the first Rainier Stampede at Yakima Training Center, Washington, on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Adeline Witherspoon.

Staff Sgt. Adam Lorey said the event gave soldiers an appreciation for their organization. “It’s not something that we do as a whole a lot,” Lorey said. “And I think it kind of brings our little pieces that we have across the state together just for everybody to see the bigger picture of everything.”

Joseph Siemandel, a spokesperson for the Washington National Guard, told Coffee or Die in October that the full-formation, 3-mile run was the first of its kind for the organization. He said the event would test the Washington Army National Guard’s ability to mobilize quickly.

“It is critical to test this function in the event of a large-scale domestic response or a mass deployment of Washington Army National Guard personnel,” Siemandel said.

On that front, Shagren said, “Obviously there were lessons learned regarding the large-scale movement of our troops – we’re trying to capture those now.”

It’s unclear if the all-Guard weekend will return.

“I don’t believe there are plans for this to be an annual event,” Shagren said.

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Jenna Biter
Jenna Biter

Jenna Biter is a staff writer at Coffee or Die Magazine. She has a master’s degree in national security and is a Russian language student. When she’s not writing, Jenna can be found reading classics, running, or learning new things, like the constellations in the night sky. Her husband is on active duty in the US military. Know a good story about national security or the military? Email Jenna.

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