Mission complete: Our fallen honored

USAF: Master Sgt. Steven Pearsall Friends, family and co-workers show support while marching alongside 18 Special Tactics airmen as they complete an 812-mile memorial march from Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, to Hurlburt Field, Fla. The Tim Davis Memorial March is conducted each year that a Special Tactics airman loses his life in defense of his country.

By Maj. Kristi Beckman: AFSOC Public Affairs

HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. — Courage, honor, allegiance and family are words that just scratch the surface of a unique group of people who spent 10 days honoring their fallen comrades in the best way they know how, through their own pain and sacrifice.

Fifteen Special Tactics airmen for Air Force Special Operations Command, along with two of their Air Combat Command brethren, embarked on an 812-mile march from Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, to Hurlburt Field, Fla., in order to memorialize 17 who have have died in combat.

These combat controllers and pararescuemen each carried a 50-pound ruck sack and a baton engraved with the name of a fallen airman.

The Tim Davis Memorial march only takes place if a special tactics airmen is lost during the year marked form October to October. This year, the 24th Special Tactics Squadron, at Pope Field, N.C., lost three airmen in the CH-47 crash in Afghanistan, Aug. 6.

The march is named after Staff Sgt. Tim Davis who was killed in 2009 from an Improvised Explosive Device. His sister, Noel Davis, joined the team half-way through the march hoisting a 50-pound rucksack on her back.

“I love coming down and participating in the rucksack march,” Noel said. “All these guys remind me of my brother in how they act and their sense of humor. I love being surrounded by them. I choose to wear the 50-lb ruck because Tim would expect no less. Tim and all the other amazing men who gave all will never be forgotten and Special Tactics just doesn’t say that — they mean it!”

The marchers traveled through Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. All along the route, they were greeted with tremendous support from school children, community members, veterans, police and firemen.

There were people in tears as the American flag passed and people in tears as they remember their lost loved one.

One of the marchers, Airman 1st Class Mike Thompson, combat controller from the 21st Special Tactics Squadron at Pope Field, said he didn’t know the men, but knew he wanted to be part of the march regardless.

“It’s just important to me to show a lot of our families who have lost loved ones that we still remember those men,” Thompson said. “I think it means a lot to them for us to be out here.”

His most memorable experience on the march is when they walked by a retirement home and the employees brought out retirees and veterans. He said just hearing some of their stories meant a lot to him.

Another marcher, Senior Airman Jordan Dehlbom, pararescueman with the 48th Rescue Squadron at Tucson Air Force Base, Ariz., said he cannot imagine what the families experience when they lose someone.

“I just hope that, whether the families are involved in this or not, the message gets to them some way that their loved one, their son, their husband, their brother, whatever he was, is not forgotten,” Dehlbom said. “He is always remembered and every day somebody who worked with him, that knew him and even people who didn’t know him, talk about him. He lives on through that memory.”

The marchers made it home on Oct. 26 and were greeted by more than 300 family members, friends and comrades who marched the last 4.6 miles home to Hurlburt Field.

A ceremony was held to turn over the batons for display in the Special Tactics Training Squadron Hall of Heroes. Accepting the batons from each marcher was the commander of the STTS, Maj. Travis Woodworth, who said it is pretty “audacious” to march 812 miles.

“A lot of people will ask, ‘why do they walk 812 miles,’” Woodworth said. “I guess a better question to ask is, ‘why not?’”

Woodworth asked the audience to think about the men who marched every day for 10 days for four hours with a 50-pound rucksack.

“And as they’re walking you’ll hear, ‘there went my toe-nail,’ but they kept marching; you hear, ‘hey, I think I’m walking on blood, but they kept marching; ‘I think my knee just blew out;’ ‘I think I’m rubbing a hole in my back,’” Woodworth said. “But the answer they always said was, ‘at least I feel that pain, at least I have that knee and I can patch that back.’ That’s what happened here today.”

Lt. Gen. Eric Fiel, commander of AFSOC, captured the sacrifice born every day by Special Tactics airmen and their families.

“To all the folks who are part of the special tactics team, past, present and future, to all the families, the nation has asked quite a bit of you guys over the last 10 years or so,” Fiel said. “You come back banged up, beat up. Some of you are on your 15th, 20th, 25th deployment and there is really no end in sight. We’re going to continue to ask a lot of you.”

Fiel told the families that the Special Tactics men could not do what they do for AFSOC without their support. He summed up that over the last 10 years the special tactics community has produced four Air Force Crosses, 26 silver stars, three Distinguished Flying Crosses, 200 bronze stars with valor device, 460 bronze star medals, 90 purple hearts, 90 wounded in action and 17 killed in action.

“To all the members of the special tactics team, I really appreciate all you do for us as a nation and I just say thank you,” Fiel said.

Fiel also thanked the supporters who were instrumental in motivating and bandaging the marchers along the way.

One of the supporters, Tech. Sgt. Sara Cabuag, 21st STS, knew three of the fallen airmen. She was responsible for driving the support vehicles, making sure the men hit their specific times and locations and made sure they had all the supplies they needed during the march.

“I think the family members were very proud of the march and the marchers who poured their heart and soul into this mission,” Cabuag said. “It assures them that their loved one has not been forgotten and never will be.”

John Carney Jr., president of the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, said none of this could have been accomplished without great patriots and Americans throughout the country who believe in what the team was doing and supported in every way they could.