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.

Support for our Heroes

I’m here at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas and it’s past late but my mind is racing and I need to get some thoughts down.  I’ve been around some pretty incredible people since I’ve arrived at Air Force Special Operations Command in July. And now I’m about to embark on an adventure I won’t soon forget with 18 special operations Airmen who are trying very hard to preserve and honor the memory of their fallen comrades.

But, this Memorial March isn’t just about honoring the men, it’s also about educating the American people about the sacrifices these Airmen are willing to make on their behalf.  I don’t know how many of you know about the blood, sweat and tears it takes to become an Air Force Special Tactics Airmen. You can truly compare these men to Navy Seals and Army Green Berets.  In fact, these guys often work right alongside them.

I heard a great story the other day from a reporter.  He talked about the pararescuemen, or PJs, and the first time he truly understood how important they are.  He interviewed the father of a Marine.  The Marine was rescued by an Air Force Pararescueman and was in recovery in the hospital.  The Marine told his father all about the PJ and how amazed he was with the determination and bravery the PJ had to fly into extremely hostile environments to rescue the injured men and women on the battlefield. He told his Dad that if it wasn’t for that PJ, he wouldn’t have made it out at all.  Unfortunately the Marine ended up passing away but his Dad got some precious time with his son before he lost him. The reporter was in awe that a Marine thought so highly of this Air Force PJ.  He told me you know you’ve got to be some kind of special for the Marines to brag about you.

And just as incredible are the combat controllers, or CCT, the other special tactics specialty we’re honoring during the Memorial March. These are the men on the ground calling in air support.  They are constantly in harms way but I have yet to hear one complain about their job. Instead, they thrive on what they do.   If you haven’t read, there is an Airmen, Staff Sgt. Robert Gutierrez, who will be presented the Air Force Cross on Oct. 27.  It is the highest honor that the Air Force can bestow. He is the fifth Airman to receive the cross and only the second who is a living recipient.  But he will be the first to tell you that there are many more like him.

These people are dedicated beyond words.  They are true heroes and I’m so proud to be a small part of their community and help them tell their story.

Speaking of telling their story, I’d like your help.  If you know a PJ or CCT, or have been saved by one, shoot me an email at afspecops@gmail.com and tell me about your experience as I’d love to post those stories in this blog.  And please, if you’re along our route, show up and give these men a strong handshake or pat on the back.  They’re worth every second of your time!

Marching in memory of our Air Force Special Operators

How would you remember someone you lost?

Losing a loved one, a friend, a comrade in arms is never easy.  And it’s particularly hard when that person loses his life protecting others and serving his country.  People die every day, and people mourn those deaths everyday.  I, myself, lost my Marine father just a couple of months ago at the young age of 62. No one knows why these things happen and I, for one, will never understand why the good guys have to be taken from us.

The good guys I’m talking about are those who sacrifice so much for the sake of their country and their family. They don’t hesitate for one second to take a bullet for a comrade. Just like Bruno Mars sings, they would catch a grenade for you, throw their hand on a blade for you, jump in front of a train for you… While Bruno is referring to an ex-girlfriend in the song, this can definitely be understood for the military member out there in Iraq or Afghanistan or anywhere in conflict.  No matter what people throughout the world and in our own country think of the U.S. military mission and why we are there, these good guys still take the grenade in defense of freedom, in support of country, in the name of the U.S. military and for the protection of our citizens and their own families. AND in today’s fight it’s not just for the U.S., it’s for freedom of the people in Iraq and Afghanistan as well.

Why do these men and women do this?  Why do they put their lives on the line day in and day out?

I spent the last couple of months traveling to memorials and funerals in honor of three of these brave heroes. Tech. Sgt. John Brown, Tech. Sgt. Daniel Zerbe and Staff Sgt. Andy Harvell were taken too soon on August 6 when their helicopter crashed in Afghanistan.  They were on a mission, along with 30 other Americans to include 17 Navy Seals, to support another unit under enemy fire.  These men who perished all had families back home who loved them dearly. They all had friends who would have given up their own lives to save them.  They were part of a tight-nit group of special tactics Airmen whose sole mission was to save lives.

While Air Force Special Operators aren’t as well-known as the Navy Seals or the Green Berets because they call themselves the “quiet professionals,” they are the ones who are always “first there…that others may live.” These men didn’t boast about or even talk about their jobs but they lost countless blood, sweat and tears to become a special tactics Airman.  While I didn’t personally know them, I learned a lot about them during their services and I can tell you these men were exceptional.  They were heroes in every sense of the word and they were truly loved.

It wasn’t easy to lose these men but we will do our best to remember them.

On October 16, eighteen of these fallen airmen’s comrades will set out on an adventure in their name.  They will begin a 812-mile ruck march from Texas to Florida relaying through five states.  Marching in three-man teams, each team will walk about 144 miles carrying 50-pound ruck sacks and a commemorative baton engraved with a fallen special tactics Airman’s name.

I will travel alongside these men and try to capture the story of their adventure while they march in memory of their comrades and friends.

We are working on setting up a guest blogger e-mail so if we come through your town you can blog about your experience meeting the team!  Thanks so much for your interest!  Stay tuned!

Maj. Kristi Beckman
Maj. Kristi Beckman Chief of Outreach and Engagements Air Force Special Operations Command