Day 5: Keep it in the family

We’ve made it close to the halfway point, still at an increased pace. The Special Tactics Airmen have experienced heat, mosquitoes, blisters and good ol’ Southern hospitality. 

 

 Picked up some runners on our way past Reeves High School, whose 4H club came out to cheer us on. It’s always fun to meet some people who are just excited about America as we are. 

It was starting to feel like Groundhog Day when it came to the grueling pace, the compounding blisters and the 12.6 miles, over and over again. The ST Airmen get into a groove, focused on pushing through discomfort and blocking pain. They’ve got a job to do, and it’s to bring these batons representing fallen teammates home to their families.

  
 But then something unexpected happened. 

  

A man saw the ST Airmen walking along the road on the way home, and mentioned it to his mother. She told him about the encounter she had with she had with a man in red shirt and fatigue pants, buying a surprisingly large amount of sport drinks. Realizing they had seen different parts of the same team, they decided it was meant to be…so they spent the next four hours preparing a huge vat of traditional Louisiana dish in his cast iron. We got the call from the police that someone was coming to our hotel with food for us at a certain time. We felt blessed, but had no idea what was in store for us. At the end, the bottom of the large pot was scraped clean, and we were full of amazing food and incredible humility for the kindness of strangers. 

    
 Then we had another surprise: the mother of a fallen Army soldier, who had perished in a helicopter crash four months ago right outside of Hurlburt Field (Special Tactics’ headquarters), drove many miles to honor our recent loss with her family as the ST Airmen ran past. 

These moments reinforce the fact that we are blessed to serve a country where strangers are treated like family, and family is never forgotten. 

Day 4: Goodbye, Texas; hello, Louisiana 

At it again… 

  

It’s a lonely road sometimes. 

A family waits in the hot sun to honor the fallen with us. 

The Silsbee High School students don’t joke around about high fives. The Special Tactics  Airmen  are pretty serious about it too. 
 

You got a blister? Eh, just drain it and walk it off while carrying a 50-pound assault pack. You’ll be fine…

  

We made it to the border of Texas…only took four days and some change. Thanks for your hospitality, Texas! You go big or go home. Now to the Pelican state…cross our finger for some boudin. 

Day 3: Houston, we’ve got a problem

and that problem is…traffic. Even with an early start in one of the country’s largest cities, we still ran into traffic. 

 

 To be honest, the Special Tactics Airmen probably didn’t help Houston’s traffic flow, but once the drivers raging against at the cause of congestion saw the flying American flag behind two sweating, determined marchers, the honks became less angry and more supportive. 

And that’s been the focus of today…the support of a team. Families waited in the hot sun to cheer and honk for the Airmen quietly march by in Huffman, firefighters lined the road to salute the flag at Atascocita, and when the 104 heat index got a little extreme, the support crew handed out cold towels and a funny story to the marchers twelve miles into their daily march.

   

Today, the Special Tactics community was reminded this trek is about teamwork…it’s about honoring a fallen comrade and bringing them home. It’s about caring for those who need it, and carrying the legacy for those who can’t any longer. Day three meant the wounds are starting to emerge; ibuProfen, I.Vs and blister kits were strewn across the table as they all patched each other up. Teamwork is using a whole pile of alcohol pads to rub off melted moleskin on a teammate’s back. 
  

But when people like these Hyatt employees go out of their way to wear red, white and blue ribbons when they checked the Airmen in, you realize that your team isn’t always just the person marching next to you. Your team can be all around you. 

  

…just like this military mother, with a daughter stationed overseas, who walked a couple miles alongside us. Her daughter couldn’t join, so she asked her parents to find us on the country back roads.  And that’s teamwork: a person who doesn’t know us individually, but knows Us. The Team. The Community. The Support. And who is willing to give up their evening to walk beside a teammate to honor our fallen. 

That’s what this is all about…a team of people who will give of themselves for others.

Now, only 550 miles to go…

  

Day Two: pace-setters

Almost two hundred miles down. The ST Airmen are crushing the pace, breaking all expectations of time and hours ahead of schedule. It’s become a competition to see who can handle the pain and conquer the challenge of sub-fifteens minute miles.

   

They say the best time to march is at night, when the air is cool and the roads are quiet.  

  

 It’s just the road, their team mate, the flag and their memorial batons, carrying their lost team mate’s memory every step of the way. 

  

But the quiet road isn’t as inspiring as the Americans who come out and and help us honor our fallen Special Tactics Airmen. The American Legion of Schulenburg, Texas, rounded up their 1952 war wagon and American Legion uniforms within fifteen minutes of the call of their early arrival, and escorted the Airmen through the town. 
  

 At one point, a man jumped out of his truck, going the opposite way and walked alongside the Airmen for the next nine miles. He is a retired veteran himself, serving as a ROMAD, or radio-operator-maintainer-and-driver, the Vietnam-era version of our Tactical Air Control Party Airmen. He called ahead to the next town, where an entire elementary school poured out to line the road. The children waved and put their hands over their hearts when the flag passed. 

  

We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention how Schulenburg’s chamber of commerce provided local treats for the Airmen…and more than a hundred middle schoolers showed up to show their support. These are the surprises that make the trek feel like it’s America’s journey, not just the Air Force’s ground special operations force walking alone. 

 

 Then there was the time when the Airmen who weren’t marching were invited to lunch at the Flatonia Livestock Commission, where a country diner full of great people was tucked away. 
  

For a lot of the ST Airmen, this live auction was the first they had seen, but it didn’t stop them from enjoying the great hamburgers and the even better hospitality in those few hours off the road. At least we knew the beef was as fresh as it gets!

 And the moment you think you’re the only one up…the Sealy Fire Dept. will show you how wrong you are. 

Thanks to all the support throughout the way…eight more days to go !

Only 812 miles to go…

It was 0145, and the night was the perfect temperature for the start of an 812-mile memorial march.

Special Tactics Airmen pledge allegiance to the U.S. flag before the start of the 2015 Special Tactics Memorial Ruck March at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland Medina Annex, Oct.4, 2015. The march covers over 812 miles, ending at Hurlburt Field, Fla., in memory of fallen comrades since Sept. 11, 2001. Each Airman carries a 50 pound ruck to bring awareness to the service and sacrifice of Special Tactics members. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Keith James/Released)

Special Tactics Airmen pledge allegiance to the U.S. flag before the start of the 2015 Special Tactics Memorial Ruck March at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland Medina Annex, Oct.4, 2015. The march covers over 812 miles, ending at Hurlburt Field, Fla., in memory of fallen comrades since Sept. 11, 2001. Each Airman carries a 50 pound ruck to bring awareness to the service and sacrifice of Special Tactics members. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Keith James/Released)

Twenty Special Tactics Airmen, their support team and other Airmen from Lackland Air Force Base readied for the first five miles, which would be completed as a team, before the relay march began.

These 20 Airmen aren’t just crazy enough to do this for fun (although some would say it is); they are doing it to honor their fallen comrades. In the world of ground operations, making a movement with a ruck sack on your back is called “rucking.” And rucking they will do, across five states, through large cities and small towns, all while carrying a wooden baton engraved with one of 19 Special Tactics Airmen who have been killed in action since 9/11.

U.S. Air Force Airmen applaud Special Tactics Airman as they ruck on Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Oct.4, 2015. The march covers over 812 miles, ending at Hurlburt Field, Fla., in memory of fallen comrades since Sept. 11, 2001. Each Airman carries a 50 pound ruck to bring awareness to the service and sacrifice of Special Tactics members. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Keith James/Released)

U.S. Air Force Airmen applaud Special Tactics Airman as they ruck on Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Oct.4, 2015. The march covers over 812 miles, ending at Hurlburt Field, Fla., in memory of fallen comrades since Sept. 11, 2001. Each Airman carries a 50 pound ruck to bring awareness to the service and sacrifice of Special Tactics members. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Keith James/Released)

It’s no easy feat, carrying 50 pounds on your back for 12 plus miles (rinse and repeat), but ‘easy’ isn’t really something the Air Force’s ground special operations forces think about. In their two year training program, which starts in Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, and ends at Hurlburt Field, Fla., (much like the memorial march…), they go through hellacious weeks, intense training and a lot of challenges along the way.

So what’s 812 miles? It’s their opportunity to honor their fallen teammates, and your opportunity to join them.

  
If you want to support these Airmen as they carry their lost brothers home, you can follow them as they ruck nearly a thousand miles on our Twitter feed @usafspectactics here: https://twitter.com/usafspectactics

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.