Memorial run unites tanker units around globe

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Kimberly Howerton
  • 507th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
An idea to honor a friend, former co-worker and the members of his flight crew turned into an international outpouring of support from KC-135 Stratotanker units around the globe during the July 13 and 14 Unit Training Assembly weekend.

The Shell 77 Memorial Runs united KC-135 tanker units around the world over the July weekend and saw Air Force active, Reserve and Guard members and their families and friends pay tribute to three of their own.

On May 3, 2013 a KC-135 with a crew from the 93rd Air Refueling Squadron from Fairchild Air Force Base went down in Chon-Aryk, Kyrgyzstan. All three crew members, Capt. Mark T. Voss, 27, Colorado Springs, Colo.; Capt. Victoria A. Pinckney, 27, Palmdale, Calif.; and Tech. Sgt. Herman Mackey III, 30, Bakersfield, Calif. died in the crash. The three Airmen were deployed to the 376th Air Expeditionary Wing's 22nd Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. The call sign for the aircraft was Shell 77.

When Sky Ablay, wife of Capt. T.J. Ablay, learned of the crash and realized their friend Mackey was among the crew she wanted to do something to honor him. She talked with another friend, Tech. Sgt. Sean Gilson, 465th Air Refueling Squadron member and a boom operator like Mackey about the possibility of doing a memorial run.

"I thought it was just going to be Tinker involved in the memorial event," Gilson explained but Ablay had much bigger plans. It evolved into a world-wide weekend event with refueling wings from around the globe participating.

Runs were conducted at more than 30 sites, she explained, including Kadena Air Base, Japan, Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., Transit Center at Manas, Kyrgyzstan, Royal Air Force Base Mildenhall, United Kingdom, bases in Alaska and Hawaii, and two units in Southwest Asia.

Approximately 30 runners signed in for the July 13 Tinker event. The runners ranged from 507th Operations Group leadership and members to small children and a small dog.

Gilson spoke to the group before they began to pay tribute to the three crew members, especially Mackey, his fellow boom operator and friend. The mood of the group took on a somber tone as they remembered the Airmen who brought them together that day.

Ablay and Gilson were pleased with the turn out and overwhelmed by the worldwide support for the Shell 77 Memorial Run idea.

A Facebook page, Shell 77 Memorial Run, , includes information about the memorial runs as well as photos and stories from the units participating in the event.