Fil-Am ‘rucks’ along California highway in Star Wars costume

Published September 1, 2020, 7:44 PM

by Roy Mabasa

A Filipino-American member of the United States Navy has launched a 10-kilometer ruck along California’s Highway 101 wearing a heavy “Star Wars” costume to raise money for wounded US veterans and servicemen.

(Photo from Jeffrey Friela Facebook)

“Rucking” is known in military parlance as walking around with a heavy backpack on a hike, or simply getting from point A to B with a weighty backpack.

Jeffrey Friela, 38, a Navy hospital based at Camp Pendleton in San Diego, was seen rucking along Highway 101 in the portion of Carlsbad wearing his full stormtrooper armor Sunday morning (Sunday evening in Manila).

An article published by the military and veteran-focused digital platform Task and Purpose, said Priela, a resident of Carlsbad, first donned his armor for a charity ruck in 2016.

The Filipino-American son of a World War II veteran has reportedly raised thousands of dollars for several past causes, including military, veterans, anti-violence, LGBTQ, and local causes.

In the said article, Priela was quoted as saying that it is not that easy rucking in the armor, citing, among others, the build-up of heat and carbon dioxide inside the suit, lack of fresh air in the helmet, and the armor being heavy and inflexible. 

What makes rucking more difficult is when he walks under the scorching heat of the sun, only bearing in mind the finish line and the money he will be able to raise for the charity.

“But people are usually taken in by the spectacle in general, so when they see an Imperial stormtrooper strutting away in their neighborhood, they stop and are genuinely interested. Once they see my social media they then get diverted to my fundraising platforms,” Priela said in the report.

In last Sunday’s ruck, Priela was participating in the Wounded Warrior Project’s annual Carry Forward 5K which was expected to generate estimated participation of 6,000 people nationwide to make solo walks, runs, or rucks, including some 650 in San Diego County.

Priela, who joined the US Navy 14 years ago, is the youngest of 10 children born to a Filipino soldier who fought for the U.S. in the Philippines during World War II. 

In 2017, Priela personally received the Congressional Gold Medal award from the US federal government on behalf of his father who passed away in 2012.