Airmen March 450 Miles to Honor Fallen


MACDILL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- Sixteen Airmen from Hurlburt Field, Fla., took part in a 450-mile, six day ruck-march, in honor of five fallen Air Commandos.   Of the sixteen, were four teams which included members from the 319th Special Operations Squadron, the 34th SOS, the 18th Flight Test Squadron and the 25th Intelligence Squadron.

The Commandos' six-day journey began on the Emerald Gulf Coast and concluded at MacDill Air Force Base's U.S. Special Operations Command fallen hero memorial, where stories were told, tears were shed and fallen comrades were remembered.

As the Commandos neared MacDill, a motorcade of Patriot Guard Riders and more than 60 community members lined up to pay respect and thank the group for their sacrifices.

The march was a special event, "very moving, very emotional," commented ruck marcher Master Sgt. John Hickman, 18th FTS first sergeant. "It's not about us [the Air Commando marchers]; it's about those that made the ultimate sacrifice."

Upon their arrival at the memorial, the commandos were greeted by Maj. Gen. Thomas J. Trask, U.S. Special Operations Command director of force structure, requirements, resources and strategic assessments, who remarked on their noble efforts and selfless actions.

After comments were made, the Air Commandos gathered together, walked over to the wall of fallen heroes, knelt down, placed a rose and spoke to their fallen brothers and sisters.

Amongst the Commandos paying tribute was Hickman, who slowly walked the memorial's semicircle.

"I've seen seven names so far that I've known," he commented, showing the grim reality of combat and how much the march really meant.

This year's march was in memory of the five Air Force Commandos who died last year --Lt. Col. John D. Loftis, 866th Air Expeditionary Squadron; Capt. Ryan P. Hall, 319th SOS; Capt. Nicholas S. Whitlock, 34th SOS; 1st Lt. Justin J. Wilkens, 34th SOS; and Senior Airman Julian S. Scholten, 25th IS.   As the Commandos paid tribute at the memorial's wall of heroes, onlookers silently held each other, drawn in by the emotional event.

The Hulbert Field remembrance marchers left behind a unique ambiance, one that exemplified the Special Operation memorial creed:

To honor the selfless service and sacrifice of the men and women of the U.S. Special Operations Command and its assigned forces; to honor, promote, and preserve our nation's illustrious special operations heritage by recognizing the achievements, service, and sacrifice of the individuals, units, and other special operations organizations that contributed to our legacy; and to recognize patriotic citizens who form our auxiliary.

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