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1st SOSFS: Honoring the fallen, one step at a time
(From left to right) Senior Airman Allen Buning, Staff Sgt. Michael McQuiggin, Tech. Sgt. Chad Reemtsma and Tech. Sgt. Daniel Dance, all from the 1st Special Operations Security Forces Squadron, march during the Ruck March to Remember through Mississippi and Alabama July 30, 2011. The Defenders marched an estimated 300,000 steps, roughly 50 steps for each of the more than 6,000 service members who paid the ultimate sacrifice in the last decade. (Courtesy photo)
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1st SOSFS: Honoring the fallen, one step at a time

Posted 8/5/2011   Updated 8/5/2011 Email story   Print story


by Senior Airman Joe McFadden
1st Special Operations Wing Public Affairs

8/5/2011 - HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. -- To some, they're just gate guards. To even fewer, there may seem nothing "special operations" about them. But to the families of the fallen, they're just like one of their own.

Four 1st Special Operations Security Forces Squadron Airmen completed their 142-mile journey Aug. 1 as part of the Ruck March to Remember.

Tech. Sgt. Daniel Dance, NCO in charge of supply, Tech. Sgt. Chad Reemtsma, NCO in charge of physical security, Staff Sgt. Michael McQuiggin, special operations flyaway security team leader, and Senior Airman Allen Buning, special operations flyaway security team member, took part in a five-day trip through Mississippi and Alabama July 28 through Aug. 1.

"There's no doubt each of us are proud to have taken part in this," Reemtsma said. "Not one of us will ever forget people coming up to us saying 'Thank you' and telling us about their kid or someone they loved and lost."

Twenty-three security forces squadrons sent members to accomplish various segments along the 2,181-mile, three-month course from the Security Forces Center in Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, all the way to Ground Zero in New York City.

The Defenders marched an estimated 300,000 steps, roughly 50 steps for each of the more than 6,000 service members who paid the ultimate sacrifice in the last decade.

"We would have given double that," Reemtsma said.

March originators at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C., were inspired by the Tim Davis Special Tactics Memorial March, dedicated to fallen pararescuemen and combat controllers, first held at Hurlburt Field in 2009.

"At Hurlburt Field, we do what we need to get done any time, any place," McQuiggin said. "We take care of the mission and complete it. For me, it was an honor that we're able to do this."

After accepting the guidon from 14th SFS members from Columbus Air Force Base, Miss., at Brookhaven, Miss., July 28, the team began their own leg of the march.

"We didn't divide the route exactly per person, but everyone could give 100 percent as far as they could for 30 minutes," Buning said. "I knew we all gave 100 percent, because the only time someone complained was when they were shorted their time."

The team marked the miles by the amount of well-wishers waving American flags, horns honking in support and the endless hills they encountered.

"When we started, we'd see a hill and make jokes like 'Why did you give this hill to me and you get to go downhill?'" Reemtsma said. "But the last day and a half, we'd see a peak of the hill and want to go up that last one. We didn't want to give any hills to the other guys, we wanted to do everything we could."

The Defenders marched through towns where the population varied from less than 200 to nearly 20,000 people. McQuiggin said the loss of just one life can have a tremendous ripple effect in small towns like Monticello, Miss., (1,726) and Waynesboro, Miss., (5,197).

In Waynesboro, a woman sat on the tailgate of her truck waiting for the team to arrive. Her son, U.S. Army Sgt. Eric Colby Newman, 525th Battlefield Surveillance Brigade, died in Afghanistan Oct. 14, 2010.

"We asked her to sign our banner in remembrance of her son, and as she started writing her name, she cried," McQuiggin said. "That hit home with me. She handled herself very well, but I had to walk away. That was very heartwarming to me, and that's why we all volunteered to be a part of this."

The team also met the grandfather of U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Aaron Holleyman, a 5th Special Forces Group medic and Monticello native, who died in Iraq Aug. 30, 2004.

"They look at you like you're one of their children," Reemtsma said. "You can see it in their eyes, especially from the ones who lost someone."

The team's final act culminated in transferring the guidon and responsibility for the march to the 325th SFS team from Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., at the changeover point in Gilbertown, Ala., Aug. 1. Now that Hurlburt's portion is over, the succeeding teams will ensure the march's arrival at Ground Zero on the 10th anniversary of 9/11.

"When I passed the guidon, I told them, 'Hurlburt Field thanks you for your time and dedication,'" Buning said. "'We've done our part in this mission, and now it's time to pass it on. We wish you the best, and may God be with you.'"

Once finished, the team said the cramps, chafing and blisters throughout the 142 miles didn't matter at all.

"People may ask us 'Why'd you guys walk that far? Why'd you do that?'" McQuiggin said. "I'd look at them and say, 'Because it was for the right reason.' Not just for the fallen security forces and Airmen, but for the families and victims who lost a grandkid, son or daughter."

For more information and to track the march's progress, visit their Facebook or YouTube pages or on Twitter at @SFRUCKMARCH.

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