These Airmen Marched 830 Miles for Their Fallen Brothers

Airmen
An airmen from the 24th Special Operations Wing marches to honor his brother, SSGT Dylan Echlin, who died in Afghanistan in November. Source: Senior Airman Ridge Shan.

Brand X has rucked a long road into American history.

Created in the 1970s, Brand X was how the first, small group of airmen were categorized as the Air Force entered the realm of special operations.

Today, approximately 1,000 of these airmen are known as Air Force Special Tactics Airmen, and  their mission is to provide a ground component which specializes in global access, precision strikes, personnel recovery and surgery.

Rucking is crucial to special operations; the putting of one foot in front of the other while carrying heavy weight on one’s back over long distances.

Like their special operations comrades in the Navy, Army and Marines, Special Tactics Airmen honor their fallen brothers by rucking.

 

Ruck Up!

For each of the 20 members in the 24th Special Operations Wing (SOW), who volunteered to ruck 50 pounds over 830 miles in memory of Staff Sergeant Dylan Elchin, a combat controller who died in Afghanistan in November, it is an honor.

This fifth Special Tactics Memorial March commenced at 2 am (CST) on February 22 at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland (Medina Annex), Texas – rucked through Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama – and concluded today at 1 pm (EST) at Hurlburt Field, Florida.

In honoring their fallen brother, the airmen also paid tribute to two 3rd Special Forces Group soldiers who died with Elchin, to 19 of the Special Tactics Airmen who have been killed in action since 9/11, and to their Gold Star families.

“Putting a 50-pound pack on your back and walking miles for 11 days is a challenge,” said Chief Master Sergeant Jeff Guilmain, the 24th SOW’s command chief.


“It’s small compared to what he gave, but it’s a tangible example of the pride we have in Dylan, and our way of honoring him.”

Special Tactics Airmen
The unit marched 830 miles with 50 lbs in their rucksacks, from Texas to Florida. They each carried batons engraved with the names of the fallen. Source: Senior Airman Ridge Shan.

The route of the ruck ran along highways and back roads, and through large cities and small towns; it followed the symbolic trail of the two years of training Special Tactics Airmen receive when they begin at Lackland’s Medina Annex and graduate at Hurlburt Field.

Each of the ten teams of two airmen alternately rucked an average of 12 to 14 miles per leg and  averaged about 75 miles per day. They also carried 22 wooden batons, each one bearing the name of a fallen airmen or soldier.

“We consider it an honor to be the ones marching and carrying the names of our fallen brothers,” explained Second Lieutenant Matthew Winkeleer.

“We couldn’t do what we do without the support of the American people.”

 

The 20 Remembered Special Tactics Airmen

  • Master Sergeant William McDaniel, Pararescueman, February 22, 2002
  • Staff Sergeant Juan Ridout, Pararescueman, February 22, 2002
  • Master Sergeant John Chapman, Combat Controller, March 4, 2002
  • Senior Airman Jason Cunningham, Pararescueman, March 4, 2002
  • Staff Sergeant Scott Sather, Combat Controller, April 8, 2003
  • Captain Derek Argel, Special Tactics Officer, May 30, 2005
  • Captain Jeremy Fresques, Special Tactics Officer, May 30, 2005
  • Staff Sergeant Casey Crate, Combat Controller, May 30, 2005
  • Senior Airmen Adam Servais, Combat Controller, August 19, 2006
  • Technical Sergeant Scott Duffman, Pararescueman, February 18, 2007
  • Technical Sergeant William Jefferson, Combat Controller, March 22, 2008
  • Staff Sergeant Timothy Davis, Combat Controller, February 20, 2009
  • Senior Airman Daniel Sanchez, Combat Controller, September 16, 2010
  • Senior Airman Mark Forester, Combat Controller, September 29, 2010
  • Technical Sergeant John Brown, Pararescueman, August 6, 2011
  • Technical Sergeant Daniel Zerbe, Pararescueman, August 6, 2011
  • Staff Sergeant Andrew Harvell, Combat Controller, August 6, 2011
  • Captain Matthew Roland, Special Tactics Officer, August 26, 2015
  • Staff Sergeant Forrest Sibley, Combat Controller, August 26, 2015
  • Staff Sergeant Dylan Elchin, Combat Controller, November 27, 2018

 

These twenty Special Tactics Airmen are an honored and remembered part of American history. They exemplify Integrity First, Service Before Self, and Excellence in All We Do. Rest in peace, airmen.  

 

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