We Will Never, Ever Forget our Fallen

The marchers are almost to the finish line and it’s a very bitter sweet feeling.  You almost want to keep going so you can see the tears in peoples’ eyes when the American flag is carried by, so you can shake the hands of the Veterans on the side of the road, so you can wave to the people who come out of their house and so you can give hugs to all the little kids waiting for you to march by.

But the mission is almost complete, the mission of honoring 17 fallen special operations Airmen and letting their families know that we will never forget their sacrifice.

For those children who lost their Dad, they will always have a hole in their heart missing that hero, that man who loved them and raised them to respect the American flag and show them that defending their country is an honorable duty.

For the sisters and brothers who lost their brother, they will always miss that person who picked on them with love but always protected them as a big brother or looked up to them as a little brother.

For the parents who lost their son, they will always always remember their child who left this world before them, something a parent should never have to experience.  But they know that their son was doing something he loved, and doing something he believed in.  They know he lived to save lives and protect those around him.  They know he is watching down on them and these marchers and they are proud.  They are proud to be a part of this tight knit community of warriors and they are proud of these men who endured the treacherous 812-mile march to spread the word about their sacrifice and about these special operators who defend our freedoms.

Thank you all for supporting this important mission of honoring our fallen.

Rest in peace:

Master Sergeant William McDaniel – pararescueman – 22 Feb 2002

Staff Sergeant Juan Ridout – pararescueman – 22 Feb 2002

Technical Sergeant John Chapman – combat controller – 4 Mar 2002

Senior Airman Jason Cunningham – pararescueman – 4 Mar 2002

Staff Sergeant Scott Sather – combat controller – 8 Apr 2003

Capt. Derek Argel – special tactics officer – 30 May 2005

Capt. Jeremy Fresques – special tactics officer – 30 May 2005

Staff Sgt. Casey Crate – combat controller – 30 May 2005

Senior Airman Adam Servais – combat controller – 19 Aug 2006

Technical Sgt. Scott Duffman – 18 Feb 2007

Technical Sgt. William Jefferson – combat controller – 22 Mar 2008

Staff Sgt. Timothy Davis – combat controller – 20 Feb 2009

Senior Airman Daniel Sanchez – combat controller – 16 Sep 2010

Senior Airmen Mark Forester – combat controller – 29 Sep 2010

Technical Sergeant John Brown – pararescueman – 6 Aug 2011

Technical Sergeant Daniel Zerbe – pararescueman – 6 Aug 2011

Staff Sergeant Andrew Harvell – combat controller – 6 Aug 2011

Never forget…

The Memorial March team has been phenomenal, the communities have been more than supportive and the sacrifice has been well worth it.

We’re not quite there yet, but these men can sense the end is near.  Some have told me they are ready to go home.  They have families and friends waiting for them and they want to be with them to share their stories of triumph and injury.  They want to hug their children and never let them go.  Some have told me they could go on forever as they just don’t want to stop because that hammers in the fact that our fallen will never return to us.

While it’s true they won’t return to us, what is also true is that we will never forget.  And the communities who learned of the march helped us remember why we’re here.  We’re not only here to honor the 17 fallen and show the families that we will never forget but it’s also to educate the public.  So many who turned out just had no idea what a combat controller or pararesueman was but when they found out they were thankful that people like that exist.  They were thankful that someone would risk their life to save others.

In our world today where so many have no idea of the sacrifice our men and women in uniform make everyday, it is crucial that we spread the word as far and wide as we can.  And especially for our special tactics Airmen who put themselves into harms way on a day-to-day basis.

This march embodies that steadfastness, that determination that gets them through the next 12-mile leg and helps them to carry that 50-pound ruck sack.  It embodies camaraderie and strengthens the bond between this tight-knit community. That bond may be formed by comparing blisters on their feet or  by telling stories of the neat people they’ve met during the march to include the retired Vitetnam vet who said he lost so many friends but no one ever did something like this for them.  That bond holds together the memory of the Memorial March and of the men we are honoring.

The story captured in this clip is truly what this is all about….honor our men who lost their lives too soon,  spread their story and never forget.

Experiencing the March…the Pain…Why They Do It…

I decided to get out there last night and do a leg with marchers and pararescuemen Chief Master Sergeant Lee Shaffer and Chief Master Sergeant Tony Negron so I could understand some of the sacrifice they put their bodies through when they are marching these long distances. (Keep in mind that I did NOT carry a 50-pound ruck sack!)

So…I pride myself in being pretty physically fit. I work out every day except Sunday. I’m close to maxing the Air Force PT test, a P90X junkie, an every-other day runner, and a mom of two little boys who keep me on my toes. With that being said, and with that confidence on my mind, I started the 12-mile march with a smile on my face and a skip in my step. We talked, we sang, and we remembered a lot of our fallen. It was dark and frankly a bit creepy walking near the edge of the road and hoping a wild dog doesn’t jump out and get me, or rather an alligator as we are in Louisiana now. I think we’ve got a bit more to go before we get to the really swampy areas though. But we had the police following us and up ahead of us with their lights flashing so that gave me a better sense of security. Besides, I’ve got two top pararescuemen with me, so what’s there to be worried about, right? That’s what I thought until Chief Shaffer informed me he had me walking closest to the woods so the wild dog would get me first…lol! Nah, I know they’d go Rambo on anything that tried to attack us!

I was doing great and thinking that the march wasn’t too bad. I was definitely cold and my hands were numb by mile four, but other than that, I was awesome!  Then I got to about mile six and an old IT-band injury decided to say hello. So now I’ve got a nagging injury. Then we’re up to about mile eight and my left hip is bothering me a bit with a little pain. I’m thinking, good grief, I’m young and fit, what the heck?

My feet are still ok at this point but I’m just thanking goodness sake that it’s 47 degrees out and dark as opposed to 85 degrees and sunny. That’s when the foot injuries start bothering the marchers. The blisters form on the feet and then they’re rubbed raw from the heat of the asphalt and the boots. We’ve got quite a few guys who are pushing through this pain now. But they always say this is nothing compared to what their fallen comrades went through and they grunt through the pain.  Our medics are constantly draining blisters and applying the moleskin.  There are some blisters and sores that just make your stomach turn.

I get to mile 10 and I’m searching up ahead for the next mile marker.  We have a vehicle that tracks each mile for us so when you can see the flashing yellow lights on that vehicle, it is a great feeling…almost to the next mile!  By mile 11, I’m ready to see the finish line!  I don’t complain and neither do the chiefs despite a heel injury that’s about rubbed down to the bone and a pinky toe that is so inflamed it’s numb.  We see the finish line and we all get pumped.  We start humming the Rocky theme and pushing ourselves a bit harder.  We reach the end and the chiefs lean over to get help taking the rucks off their backs and they help the next team get geared up for their leg.

I felt great.  I felt motivated.  I felt relieved.  I felt sad.  Sad that we even have to do this.  Sad we’ve lost so many incredible men who live to save lives and make this world a better place.  I don’t know why so many of the good ones are taken, but I do know that it only makes this team of special tactics Airmen stronger.  I know the resilience of this command and these men are incredible.  They know the risks of what they do and they know they are going to lose friends.  But they do it because they are some of the most selfless people in this world of ours.  They are first there…that others may live.  And they will always be there.

But they will never forget their fallen and they will never stop sacrificing for them.  I’m honored to tell their story and I’m honored to know them.

We rocked that Grand Marshal role today…love us some Liberty, Texas!

Today started off with a trip to Liberty, Texas to march in their parade as the Grand Marshals.  We weren’t quite sure what to expect, but we knew the people we had been talking with on the phone were all just wonderful.  Well, I have to say that it turned out to be much more than all of us expected.  The parade was huge and all the schools were out for the day so the kids could see the parade. Main Street was absolutely lined with families.  People were sitting in the back of their pickup truck or just along the route in the grass.  We lined up at the front and before we could start marching, the kids were coming at us like crazy for the stickers, balls and lanyards we brought.  In fact, we had to save a few from the John Deere tractors trying to get by :)   There was an announcer at the beginning and middle of the parade and I know I got goosebumps when they announced who the team was and their mission.  The community applauded the team throughout the whole parade and we won’t soon forget how that made us feel.  But the truly great part of the parade was when the current marchers were able to march.  The timing was perfect and the team made it jut in time to be a part of it.  This video says a thousand words!

To Jennifer, Mary Anne, and Mark – we are thankful for your support and your friendship.  Thank you for letting us be a part of your great town for one special day.

Thank you, Texas…keep it up!

We are loving the community support while the men are marching through Texas.  Keep those photos coming of you all with the men when they march through your town.  The support helps to motivate them and inspire them.  Team 7 is marching toward Atascocita, Texas right now.  The weather has cooled off and there’s a strong wind at their backs which is a nice change from the blaring sun and hot temps.  

Feel free to take video too if you see the marchers and ask them about who they are walking for.  Each of our 17 fallen Airmen have a unique story and you will surely be in awe over their courage and heart.

Tomorrow, we’ll visit Liberty, Texas, and march in their parade as the grand marshals.  The parade starts at 10 a.m. so please come out and support us if you are in the area. We will be marching with 17 fallen Airmen by our sides.

Don’t forget, please send me a guest blog if you’d like to write about the Memorial March and what it means to you!  afspecops@gmail.com

Thank you, Texas!

Absolutely awe-inspiring…

These guys just don’t stop despite intense heat and sun beating down on them all day, blisters the size of this great state of Texas we’re marching through, and the pain of the 50-pound ruck sacks weighing them down.  It truly is awe-inspiring and brings me to tears quite a bit when I think about their sacrifice and their huge hearts.  They tell me that no amount of pain makes up for the emotional pain of the families of the 17 fallen Airmen we’ve lost.  And although we are only honoring the special tactics Airmen with the batons the men are carrying, I know that these guys would go to any lengths to honor all of our Air Force family who have fallen.

I’ve learned a few things since I arrived to Air Force Special Operations Command.  It’s never about us, it’s about them.  What I mean is that these guys never do anything for themselves, they do it for their Air Force, Army, Navy and Marine brethren they are protecting or saving.  They do it for their comrades.  They do it for their families.  And they do it for their country.  I believe that these men all retain a unique quality of never giving up.  No job is too tough, no mission too hard to get through, and there is no life not worth saving.

I know I keep going back to my Dad in these posts, but he truly was my hero.  He was a Marine and he truly embodied what it means to be a Marine…the sharp uniform, the command presence, the impeccable military bearing, the brute strength, and the heart that never quits loving or defending our country.  Our special tactics Airmen are no different.  Our Navy Seals are no different.  And our Green Berets are no different.  These are the men who will always give all to save lives and protect others.

I know you probably feel like you need to put patriotic music to this blog right now, but I can’t help it.  If you were to come out here and see the men marching, sweating, bleeding, aching, all in remembrance of their fallen comrades and especially those they left behind, it would inspire the heck out of you too!

From the woman who shook one our men’s hands and then drove off crying, to the little kid on crutches who kept up with the men as long as he could, they understand what these guys are doing and they understand the importance of self-sacrifice for others.

Long Day and Still Going Strong!

I think I fell asleep before I hit post on this…so posting now from last night!

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Evening all.  The teams are still marching strong.  They will march through the night as this is a 24-7 march.  The men we lost didn’t quit or give up and neither will these guys.  The climate can get a little rough if you can imagine carrying 50-lb ruck sacks and wearing military uniforms and boots.  But they didn’t get where they are by quitting when the going gets tough.  In fact, I think that simply motivates them more.  They are driven by their memories of their comrades who lost their lives and by the families they left behind.

And just as these men are marching their hearts out determined to not give up, our support staff who is with them every step of the way ensures that the teams don’t have to.  From medics to supply to logistical support, they keep things moving smoothly.  I was watching the supply folks today, who follow the teams with trucks full of water, gatorade and medical supplies, and they were doing a great job running back and forth to ensure the teams had water and cold towels for the back of their necks…not to mention sunblock.  It’s a bit hot and sunny here in Texas this week and after about 24 miles of open skies with no shade, the teams were feeling it!  And then I think of the blisters I get just from running a few miles.  The blisters after walking 12+ miles in boots with a 50-lb weight on my back, pretty nasty critters!

So, think about these guys walking the lonely streets tonight in Texas.  Think about the men they are honoring and remember their sacrifice, their ultimate sacrifice.