Special tactics Airmen walk for fallen comrades

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  • By David W. Roberts
  • Defense Media Activity
Fifteen special tactics Airmen carrying 50-pound rucksacks departed from here Oct. 9 on a mission to honor the memories of their fallen comrades.

The 860-mile trek, known as the Tim Davis Special Tactics Memorial March, will stretch across five states and will consist of six teams walking 24 hours a day, in a relay format.

"We're conducting a walk honoring the guys that we've lost overseas," said Master Sgt. Kenneth Huhman, the chief of the combat control selection course at Lackland Air Force Base and the coordinator for the march. "We did it last year in honor of (Staff Sgt.) Tim Davis, (a fallen special tactics Airman), and we named it the Tim Davis Special Tactics Memorial March. This year will be our second year doing it. Our goal is to obviously honor the ones we've lost, to build awareness of combat control and pararescue, and to let everyone know that the Air Force has ground troops that actually go into harm's way."

While having the same destination and purpose as last year's event, this year's walk will incorporate several changes, Sergeant Huhman said.

"We've slowed the pace down a little bit from last year," he said. "One, so that we're not going so fast, and two, this time we kind of want to make it like a 'Forrest Gump' style. And what I mean by that is anybody who wants to come out and help us honor our 14 (Airmen) that we've lost is more than welcome to. Or, (they are welcome) to come out and honor somebody else that they've lost. The only thing is they'll have to support their own transportation from the beginning to ... where they end up walking. But, we'd love to have them out there."

The 14 Airmen being remembered are special tactics Airmen who have died in Afghanistan and Iraq since the beginning of operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. The two most recent special tactics Airmen to lose their lives in the line of duty are Senior Airman Mark Forester, who died Sept. 29, and Senior Airman Daniel Sanchez, who died Sept. 16.

"These past three weeks have been a hard three weeks for us," Sergeant Huhman said. "We've actually lost two gentlemen overseas -- combat controllers in Afghanistan -- in a week and a half to two-week period. So, it's been a little bit of a challenge, but this year's walk is going to be for them. It's still the Tim Davis Special Tactics Memorial March, but we're carrying their batons, all the fallen from last year, to include the two we've currently lost this year."

The batons carried by the marchers symbolize the memories of their fallen brethren, and will be passed from team to team as the relay progresses, and retired at the end of the march.

"Each baton has (a fallen special tactics Airman's) name engraved on it and when (he) passed," Sergeant Huhman said. "We thought of it kind of like a relay. The way the walk is going to go is there (are) six teams, and everybody walks the first five (miles), and then (they) relay the whole way, so somebody is walking 24 hours a day -- rain, sleet or snow, but hopefully not snow this time of year. Those batons are what we pass from one team to the next until they get to the end."

Sergeant Huhman, who participated in last year's walk, described the challenges of the 860-mile journey.

"The first three days, I was 'bluesing,'" he said. "Those three days were the hardest days. We had a nineteen miler and then an eighteen miler, and then a seventeen miler. But crazily, the entire team started to get stronger as we did more. I think it was just your body adapting to its environment, and the first three days, most guys were bluesing, the blisters were really bad, and people (were) just getting used to walking that distance every day, (after) getting a couple hours rest."

Even so, the end of the walk was very rewarding, Sergeant Huhman said.

"I can't even put into words how incredible the end was, the reception that we received there with the family members, the media, (Air Force Special Operations Command officials) turning out, and pretty much closing the base down to receive us. It was more than words could say."

Staff Sgt. Robert Parra, a combat control selection course instructor who is participating in this year's walk, said he is ready to take on the challenge.

"I'm excited to go on the walk for the fallen comrades," Sergeant Parra said. "I tried to go last year because I do have some close, personal friends who have been killed in the past couple years and I wanted to give something back to honor them."

He said he is well aware of the obstacles he and the other marchers will face along the way, but even so, he expects it to be a memorable and meaningful experience.

"Aside from the 'wanting a chair' portion, or wanting to stop for the rest of the day, I think it'll give us a lot of time when we're walking in teams (to spend) with other combat controllers and pararescuemen," Sergeant Parra said. "It'll give us that chance to bring up stories from the guys that we lost, and be able to remember, and be able to laugh, and reflect on things that have happened. It'll be a good (opportunity for camaraderie) for us. We'll be able to talk about things that we didn't know about each other, things that we did know about each other, and be able to recap that."

Airman Sanchez is one of the close, personal friends Sergeant Parra seeks to honor.

"I was very, very close to Airman Sanchez," Sergeant Parra said. "Not only did we hang out personally, but we were down at the same team, down at the 23rd Special Tactics Squadron, and I was also one of his instructors at the squadron level. So we worked together, we played together. He was a very good student, a very good friend. I could definitely count on him."

While he mourns the loss of his comrade, Sergeant Parra said he is deeply saddened for the Airman's family.

"Of course, I feel horrible," Sergeant Parra said. "I mean, (he's) a guy I'll never get to talk to again. I'll never get to experience (with him) the things that we'll be looking forward to in our lives. I won't be involved in that part of his life anymore, and he won't be involved in mine. However, I can only feel sadness for the family, because really it's their loss. I've lost a friend and a teammate, but they've lost a son, a brother, a nephew."

Sergeant Huhman said reaching out to the families of the fallen Airmen is an important part of the walk.

"I'm really big on showing the family members that their relatives will never be forgotten, and we'll continue to honor them," he said. "We like to bring (the family members) into it too, so that they know they're still part of the family."

In addition to Sergeant Davis, Airman Forester and Airman Sanchez, the marchers will honor Master Sgt. William McDaniel, Staff Sgt. Juan Ridout, Tech. Sgt. John Chapman, Senior Airman Jason Cunningham, Staff Sgt. Scott Sather, Capt. Derek Argel, Capt. Jeremy Fresques, Staff Sgt. Casey Crate, Senior Airman Adam Servais, Tech. Sgt. Scott Duffman and Tech. Sgt. William Jefferson.

The march is scheduled to conclude Oct. 21 at Hurlburt Field, Fla.

For more information on the Tim Davis Special Tactics Memorial March, and the Airmen being honored, visit http://www.wix.com/trifectaconsulting/specialtacticsmemorialmarch.