Special tactics Airmen honor fallen teammates

  • Published
  • By Mike Joseph
  • 37th Training Wing Public Affairs
Before dawn breaks Oct. 6, 12 Airmen will begin a memorial ruck sack march in honor of 12 fallen special tactics teammates killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. An estimated 824 miles later, on Oct. 16, the dozen warrior Airmen will arrive at Hurlburt Field, Fla.

Six two-man teams will relay through five states, 24 hours a day, averaging 15-20 miles per leg. Each team will walk approximately 150 miles during the 11-day trek, carrying with them a 50-pound ruck sack and a commemorative baton engraved with a fallen Airman's name.

"We may be walking for the 12 we've lost, but my hopes and desires are that the nation can come together and put aside all differences," said Master Sgt. Kenneth Huhman, one of three Lackland representatives on the march.

Together, the 12 Airmen will leave the Lackland Training Annex at 5 a.m. and march through the base before exiting Kelly Field and breaking out into two-man relay teams. Five of the teams will rest while the sixth continues the march, taking turns for the next 800-plus miles. The 12 Airmen will reunite in Florida, completing the final five miles as a team.

Surviving family members of the 12 fallen Airmen will gather at the Hurlburt Field gate to join the team on their final mile to the Special Tactics Memorial, the dedicated site for an Oct. 17 ceremony honoring Staff Sgt. Tim Davis, a combat controller killed in February in Afghanistan.

"I feel very honored," said Sally Sheldon, Sergeant Davis' mother. "They've been so good to me and I'm very proud of all these young men. They've made me a part of their family; someone is always calling to check on me."

Mrs. Sheldon, who lives in Washington state, plans to fly into Hurlburt Field Oct. 15 with her daughter and son, Noel and Ben. The three will walk the last mile of the march.

Sergeant Huhman said there is special significance to starting the march at Lackland and ending it in Florida. Special tactics training begins here and combat controllers complete their training at Hurlburt before joining their team, he said.

One of several event organizers, Sergeant Huhman, said the team seeks to honor the special tactics Airmen who have given the ultimate sacrifice in defense of America, while at the same time raise awareness for Air Force specialties like special operations, combat control and pararescue, as well as the Special Operations Warrior Foundation. The foundation provides assistance to the families of fallen Special Operations military members.

"This walk shows that with Air Force Special Operations, you are never forgotten," he added.

Representing Lackland on the journey are Lt. Col. Patrick Barnett, 342nd Training Squadron commander; 1st Lt. Sam Schindler, 342nd TRS flight commander; and Sergeant Huhman, who was awarded two Bronze Stars in June for his actions as a combat controller in Afghanistan.

The other nine special tactics participants are from Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., and Hurlburt Field. Two medical technicians from Lackland's 59th Medical Group have also volunteered to accompany the team in a support vehicle.

"There has been much more involvement and interest than I expected, and the level of support has been incredible," Lieutenant Schindler said. "I am amazed at all the support we have seen across the local and military communities."

Lieutenant Schindler said he thought the march would be a great event as well as a challenge for all the participants.

To prepare for their journey, the majority of participants have been wearing a 65-pound weight vest under their uniform for several weeks. In addition to the daily vest, Sergeant Huhman has been running four to six miles three times a week wearing a 45-pound vest, and taking walks of 10 to 20 miles two to three times on weekends.

"Most of the guys are in shape but walking 20 miles every day for 11 days straight, plus doubling up some days, will take its toll," Sergeant Huhman said.

Follow the memorial ruck sack march at http://sites.google.com/site/stmemorialmarch/.