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.

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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.

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