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Remembering Joe: Spangdahlem AB Airmen participate in memorial 5k

SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Germany (AFNS) -- As firefighters began putting on their dense flame-retardant gear, a group of explosive ordnance disposal Airmen arrived next to them, slipping their arms through the thick sleeves of their protective suits.

Their appearance upon completion looked not unlike bundled-up children who couldn't move their arms before braving harsh snow on the walk to the school bus. But it's not winter, it's June, and the more than 50 pounds of extra clothing only exacerbates the wearer's internal temperature, let alone limits her or his movement.

Despite all this, these Airmen weren't about to put out a fire or respond to a bomb threat -- they were doing it all to honor a fallen brother.

Nearly 500 Airmen, family members and dogs participated in the Jog for Joe Memorial 5K outside the Skelton Memorial Fitness Center here, June 20.

The run memorialized Staff Sgt. Joseph Hamski, formerly assigned to the 52nd Civil Engineer Squadron EOD flight, who was killed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom May 26, 2011. Hamski died from wounds after an improvised explosive device detonated near his station. His EOD team worked to render the area safe and protect fellow service members and civilians.

"Joe was one of 20 Air Force EOD technicians who lost their lives deployed downrange keeping others safe," said Capt. Taylor Valentine, the EOD flight commander. "We do this to remember the sacrifices he and his colleagues have made for our country. It's a day to reflect on why we do what we do and honor those who have gone before us."

Runners took off from the base track by the fitness center and through the woods along the side of a base housing division, before moving around the outskirts of the flightline and back.

While the distance measured a little more than five kilometers, the people sporting the heavy suits and rucksacks may have said they felt even more of that distance.

"Every step adds another ounce to the weight of everything," said Bryan Souder, a 52nd CES firefighter. "But it's so worth it."

Participants cheered on and high-fived other runners upon their return back to the base track.

Making it to the finish line not only signified the end of the run, but it also meant they had done something special as a base for one of their own, said Master Sgt. David Baker, the EOD programs and operations section chief,

"It was really wonderful to see this much support," Baker said. "It's been three years since Joe was killed, and our base has had high turnover since then. Many people here didn't know him or weren't stationed here when he died, but they still turned out. It speaks volumes about what kind of community we are as (Airmen)."

Baker had served as Hamski's supervisor and was serving in a separate location in Afghanistan when he died toward the end of their tour.

Still, Baker smiled as he recalled his Hamski's humor: like referencing an online encyclopedia article to win a debate, and later admitting he had edited it earlier to solidify his argument.

"He was a great guy -- real dry wit, sharp as a whip," Baker said.

When asked what Hamski would have thought about seeing a run like this, Baker emphasized his former Airman's modesty and willingness to honor a fellow EOD warrior.

"He probably would wonder what all the hoopla was about," he said. "He was a pretty humble guy and didn't like being in the spotlight. But I think if it was an event to memorialize fallen comrades, he'd be a part of it. He'd very much be into the community and memorial aspect of it all."
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