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.

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!