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'We Bleed Together, We Mourn Together': Special Tactics Ruck March Ends At Hurlburt Field

Jennie McKeon

Twenty Special Tactics Airmen completed their 830-mile ruck march to honor the fallen Monday morning at Hurlburt Field.

The ruck marchers were met with cheers, salutes and American flags as they walked through the base entrance. Gold star families were waiting to give hugs while holding photos of their lost loved ones.

“Most of us weren’t thinking of the end being in sight,” said Chief Master Sgt. Jeffrey Guilmain, 24th Special Operations Wing command chief. “It was more about the experience of the last eleven days, Feb, 22, when we stepped off from San Antonio and made this march all the way here, kind of celebrating the legacy of those that we lost all the way back to 9/11.”

The Special Tactics Memorial March began in 2010 in honor of Staff Sgt. Tim Davis, who was killed in action Feb. 20, 2009. Since that first march, Air Force Special Tactics plans a memorial march when a member is killed in action. This year’s march honored Staff Sgt. Dylan Elchin who was killed, Nov. 27, 2018. Three other Army soldiers were also killed in that same operation.  

“This march truly embodied the essence of Dylan,” said Brig. Gen. Claude Tudor Jr., 24th Special Operations Wing commander. “Courage, bravery, dedication, compassion and commitment.”

Since the war in Afghanistan began in 2001, 20 Special Tactics airmen have been killed in action. Overall, there have been more than 2,300 American casualties.

Being a part of the march was “very personal” to Guilmain. 

Credit Jennie McKeon / WUWF
A Gold Star family greets ruck marchers at Hurlburt Field.

“Although it is nice that we’re done now because my legs do hurt, it was an incredible event,” he added. “I was really glad I was able to take part in it. I have a long history in special tactics and knew most of the men that were honored, so this is very personal.”

Ten teams of two Special Tactics Airmen marched across five states, from Lakeland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, to Hurlburt Field, carrying 50-pound rucksacks and a wooden baton with the name of a fallen airman inscribed on it. In a ceremony at the base, the ruck marchers passed the batons over to be displayed at the Special Tactics Training Squadron.

“We hope we never have to pull them out again — that’s really the intent that they stay in there,” Guilmain said.

Gold star families were in attendance at Monday’s ceremony, including the family of John Chapman, who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor last year. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein said it’s important to the fallen, as well as their families, to honor their sacrifice.

Credit Jennie McKeon / WUWF
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein addresses the crowd at a short ceremony following the ruck march honoring fallen airmen.

“I was talking to a Gold Star family a couple years ago and they said ‘Our biggest fear is that our loved one dies twice, the first time on our worst day and the second day when the service stopped saying his name.’ So our commitment is that we never let that happen.  They’re never going to die twice on our watch.”

Gen. Goldfein remembers his father coming home from a different long war, Vietnam, in 1977 and the public’s perception of the military then — “I won’t repeat what people yelled at him,” he said. He said he wants those in uniform today to remember that.

“It hasn’t always been this way,” he said. “The torch has been handed to us and so now it is our job to make sure we keep the flame lit and we hand it to the next generation.”

The unique bond between airmen and all military service members is exemplified in times like this. 

“We bleed together we mourn together,” said Gen, Goldfein. “So today’s pretty special.”

Jennie joined WUWF in 2018 as digital content producer and reporter.