KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. --
Several Keesler Air Force Base units and agencies came together to honor 20 fallen Special Tactics Airmen during an 830-mile ruck march that passed through Biloxi, Mississippi, March 1.
U.S. Air Force Special Tactics Airmen are making the journey to pay tribute to Staff Sgt. Dylan J. Elchin, a combat controller, and 19 other Special Tactics Airmen who were killed in action after 9/11.
They began their ruck march on Feb. 22 at Medina Annex on Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, and will end their journey at Hurlburt Field, Florida.
“The ruck is a good way to pass on people’s memories and keep talking about them,” said Staff Sgt. Matt Smith, Special Tactics combat controller. “When you lose guys like Dylan, the only way to remember them is to by doing things like this, where we can just stop for 11 days and ruck in their honor.”
At around 10 p.m., the ruckers passed by the entrance of Keesler Air Force Base. Awaiting them were 81st Training Group Airmen holding the 50 state flags and dozens of U.S. Flags.
Maj. Gen. Timothy Leahy, Second Air Force commander, could be seen leading the group of over 40 Airmen alongside the Special Tactics Airmen followed closely by Chief Master Sgt. Jo Bass, Second Air Force command chief, during the march through Biloxi.
Leahy has a long history in the special operations world including time as a special operations pilot and commander. He currently oversees the training of numerous special tactics pipelines in his current command of Air Force technical training.
Capt. Jesse Sullivan, 352nd Special Warfare Training Squadron Detachment 1 commander, commented how Special Tactics is a vital and very small portion of the Air Force population, which is why 12 staff members and 38 students from the detachment joined the ruckers for a five-mile stretch.
“It is a privilege for our detachment to be able to support our teammates during this event,” said Sullivan. “There is a bond between our instructors and the other operators who selflessly decided to ruck 830 miles for our fallen comrades. This unbreakable bond is why we still memorialize our fallen, to continuously honor them and their families for making the ultimate sacrifice.”
Joining this event further reinforced to the special tactics students’ the reason for the challenges they face during their difficult training pipeline.
“These challenges are minuscule compared to the future challenges they will experience on the battlefield,” said Sullivan. “Challenges of currently deployed operators, and most importantly challenges of our fallen comrades and their families.”
Staff Sgt. Tim Everhard, 335th weather course instructor here and Keesler Five-Six event organizer, has participated in memorial ruck marches before and he reminisced on how rough a task like this is. In his experience, he mentioned how there were always people along the trail who were cheerleaders and motivators. He aimed to replicate that feeling by organizing a team of Airmen to flight fire pits along Highway 90 as encouragement to the team. The Keesler Air Force Sergeants Association teamed up with Everhard’s team to make this possible.
“If we can help these Special Tactics Airmen with some motivation and cheer them on, then we succeeded in our goals,” said Everhard. “These Airmen are marching from Medina Annex to Hurlburt Field; for us to light their path along the Mississippi Gulf Coast is a small thing we can do to aid them on their path.”
After 17 years in the Air Force and multiple deployments, Tech. Sgt. Christine Anderson, 81st Training Wing command section NCO in charge and Keesler lead for the march, said she wouldn’t be who she is today without the Special Tactics community.
“They opened my eyes to their world and for that, I am forever grateful,” said Anderson. “Anything I can do to show my appreciation and gratitude to them and honor their brothers, I can and will.”
“This event memorializes our fallen comrades and additionally builds awareness,” said Sullivan. “It is important for all Airmen to be knowledgeable of this Air Force ground capability because we currently and always will require their support.”
Smith said that he and his team were grateful for the show of support from Keesler and the Gulf Coast community.
“It’s really inspiring to see the communities come out and support us,” said Smith. “It’s awesome when they ask us what we are doing because it gives us the opportunity to talk to them about our fallen, their sacrifices and their Gold Star Family sacrifices.”