JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-CAMP BULLIS, Texas –
Beads of sweat rolled down many Airmen’s brows as familiar tunes echoed throughout vast and varied terrain. Marching over four miles to the beat of jodies, approximately 1,500 Airmen and guests participated in the 14th Annual Defender Ruck at Joint Base San Antonio-Camp Bullis Nov. 12.
Camaraderie, determination, and respect were evident as attendees paid tribute to fallen Defenders.
“Our Defenders have laid down their lives fighting in wars abroad and here at home,” said Staff Sgt. Mark Johnson, 343rd Training Squadron technical training instructor, during the commemoration. “Today, we pay special tribute to these 186 Defenders who have made the ultimate sacrifice in service to the United States Air Force and this country.”
Going back to 2008, the 343rd TRS holds the annual march to memorialize and pay tribute to those who gave all.
“Why we do this tradition, why we do this job, and why we ruck for our fallen is because we are honoring those who can’t be with us,” said Tech. Sgt. Crystal Davis, 343rd TRS technical training instructor.
Guest speaker Christine Herwick, mother of Staff Sgt. Travis Griffin, honored her son’s sacrifice at this year’s ruck. Griffin was killed by a roadside bomb while on patrol in Baghdad during his seventh deployment.
“He died, doing what he loved,” Herwick recalled.
Events like these also help establish a connection for younger generations.
Master Sgt. Kevin Hillman, 343rd TRS non-commissioned officer in charge for the Security Officers Course, lost two friends and colleagues. He noted the importance of passing on the stories of all those who have fallen and keeping their memory alive.
“It’s the one time of year that we all come together and we all honor our fallen brothers,” Hillman said.
Helping build morale and team participation, attendees can choose to either compete or march in groups. Those who competed rucked with at least 35 pounds, while non-competing participants carried 20 to 25 pounds.
“I was very impressed with the overall performance and display by the 343rd TRS. Having attended multiple Defender Rucks, this was by far the best I’ve seen executed, honoring our fallen Defenders,” said Master Sgt. Brandon Spears, 343rd TRS course manager.
Chief Master Sgt. Brady L. McCoy, senior enlisted leader of the U.S. Air Force Security Forces Academy, 343rd TRS, said he often reflects on a quote by retired Air Force Col. Karen Dorman when he participates in events such as Defender Ruck.
“I wear the uniform of my country because of its history, its heritage, its service to America, its representation of my people, and because of my desire to live in a free land. Hopefully, I wear this uniform in peace,” Dorman said. “But, America’s enemies must know that I will also stand fearlessly in war as those before me have stood. I pray only that I do not stand alone.”