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.