Airman's sacrifice remembered around the world

  • Published
  • By Capt. Tamara Fischer-Carter
  • Air Force Space Command Public Affairs
While deployed to Iraq, Airman 1st Class LeeBernard E. Chavis was killed by sniper fire as he tried to keep civilians away from a suspected bomb in the streets near Baghdad on Oct. 14, 2006.

To remember Chavis and the Airman he was, Air Force members here and around the world commemorated the anniversary of his death in a unique way.

Approximately 40 Air Force members gathered together here Oct. 16 to commemorate the sixth anniversary Chavis' death by participating in the Chavis Workout. Created by Chief Master Sgt. Jason France, out of Hill Air Force Base, Utah, the workout is a CrossFit-style exercise that includes 150 burpees, a one mile run and 150 squat thrusts.

"The workout is tough by design," said France, who was the 820th Security Forces Group operations superintendent at Moody AFB, Ala., when Chavis was stationed with the 824th Security Forces Squadron there. "It has to be in order to pay proper respect to Airman 1st Class Chavis. We owe him that.

"The workout isn't only about the physical challenge though," added the chief. "You're going to have to show a lot of heart, dig deep and rely on the Airmen to your left and right to get through it. Staying focused on what the workout represents will help carry you through. The memory of a fallen warrior is a powerful motivator."

Former security forces member, Staff Sgt. Heather Ruhlman, now a 21st Space Wing paralegal here, was deployed with 21-year-old Chavis when he was killed. Ruhlman was also with the 824th SFS, performing duties as a member of a U.S. military police training team supporting Iraqi police. While Chavis took the lead as the .50-caliber turret gunner, Ruhlman was the .240B gunner and rode primarily in truck number two.

"We were on patrol that day, driving home from our daily trip to our police station," Ruhlman said. "We came up on Iraqi policemen in the road who seemed to be needing assistance with a possible IED. We cordoned off the area quickly.

"I was riding in the trail vehicle that day," she continued. "We weren't there long when a shot was fired. It was pretty hectic after that. It wasn't until we reached the cache that I found out that Chavis had been shot by a sniper. Chavis had been standing up in the turret ensuring traffic did not enter into the cordon."

Trying to find a way to memorialize their fallen comrade, Chavis' fellow security forces members began doing the workout in his honor in 2008.

"I never thought ... when we first did this workout together that years later we would be doing it at our new homes spread across the world," Ruhlman said. "There are members of the unit who are not even in the military anymore who go and do the workout. It's nice to know so many still take the time out to remember our fallen Ghostwalker."

Ruhlman said that last year 400 people across the globe accepted the workout invitation she sent. This year appears to have garnered a similar response. Among the people attending the workout here were members of security forces, comptroller, judge advocate and public affairs units; and the nearby U.S. Air Force Academy.

"The turn out today was fantastic, much more than I think anyone expected," said Staff Sgt. Danny Keurtz, 21st Security Forces Squadron. "With everyone there you could tell people were pushing as hard as they could. It was nice to see people pour so much sweat and camaraderie into remembering Airman 1st Class Chavis. I couldn't have been happier to share this experience with everyone there."

As each person progressed through the workout, they tick-marked their count with chalk on the pavement. They pressed through the workout in mostly respectful silence, while others from around the world wrote "complete," along with their location and a message of love to Chavis, on a Facebook page created for the event.

"It warms my heart when I see this enormous outpouring of support for the workout," said Ruhlman. "I can't believe the workout has become what it is today. Six years later, it still hurts just like it did on 14 October 2006, but what's uplifting is knowing Chavis is still remembered just as I always hoped and knew he would be."

At the end of the workout, there was no team huddle or cheer, only the symbolic chalk outlines at each person's feet as they mustered what strength they had left to gather drink bottles and cold weather gear.

With solemn expressions like they had just visited Chavis' grave in person, they turned away to carry on the Air Force mission.