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NEWS | Sept. 23, 2010

Remembrance run honors POWs/MIAs

By Patrick Desmond 502nd Air Base Wing OL-A Public Affairs

In observation of National POW/MIA Recognition Day, Lackand once again acted on the day's theme by running 20,000 miles in 24 hours.

From midnight Sept. 17 to midnight Sept. 18, servicemembers and civilians shared 30-minute shifts, circling the black and white POW/MIA flags waving the phrase, "You Are Not Forgotten."

The event does more to honor America's prisoners of war and remember the estimated 81,864 military members missing in action than any lunch or speech ever could, said Lt. Col. Matthew Whiat, 323rd Training Squadron commander.

The colonel said expanding the run, from only the 323rd TRS and Air Force Basic Military Training last year, to include the entire base population and six other tracks, was a challenge.

Yet, the dream had to be fulfilled.

Colonel Whiat said that the POW/MIA run is a way to include the entire base in an event that matches the Air Force's physical fitness lifestyle.

Instead, 6,000 runners showed their support from the base's technical schools, the 37th Training Group, BMT and nearly every unit on Lackland.

He added, with an event of this magnitude, it's important to take the entire day to"pause from our busy schedules to reflect, to remember and allow those thoughts to guide your present and future actions."

Former POWs James Warner and Dr. Joseph H. Milligan, and Tuskegee Airman Dr. Grandville Coggs gave first hand accounts of what the day signifies.

New to the run, the speakers bridge generations and build on Col. William H. Mott V's, 37th Training Wing commander, vision of warrior Airmen of character.

"I can teach anyone how to take apart an M-16 (rifle)," Colonel Whiat said. "But I want to talk about heritage. Follow in the path of those who served before you.

"Some have not come home and their story remains untold; and some have served with dignity under extremely arduous conditions."

While relating his experiences of a five and a half year imprisonment, Mr. Warner parted with more than a few lessons during his speech.

Foremost were: Never leave a servicemember behind, be prepared for anything and never, ever give up.
"When you are faced with an obstacle, what do you have as a resource inside you to solve the problem posed by this obstacle?" Mr. Warner asked a crowd at the Warhawk track. "Can you overcome it?

"Yes, you can. You can overcome almost anything if you apply yourself. That's the lesson you should learn from us."

Among those listening, 1st Lt. Jennifer Hutchison, 802nd Mission Support executive officer, said she was moved by Mr. Warner's words.

"I try to put myself in the person's shoes," she said, "and I think, 'there's no way I could do that.'
"It was definitely inspiring."

Earlier that morning, Dr. Milligan addressed Airmen at the 324th Training Squadron drill pad.

He bridged a gap between previous Airmen and current trainees, reminding them BMT is only eight and a half weeks; "imagine spending eight years" in confinement.

Colonel Whiat said the hard work of military training instructors including Tech. Sgt. Emelio Garza, who helped set up POW/MIA flags and podiums at 10 p.m. and took down the observation sites early Saturday morning, made the event possible.

Sergeant Garza said the names of POWS and MIAs since WWII were divided among the venues and read aloud during the event as an added move of respect.

Lt. Col. Todd Weyerstrass, 737th Training Group deputy commander, paid his respects at the 321st drill pad.

"In the end, it's your fellow Airman, your wingman, you are doing this for," he said.

T-shirts sold during the event raised $4,000 for the Combined Federal Campaign.

Colonel Whiat hopes Fort Sam Houston and Randolph will participate in future runs.

Turning a squadron event into a base-wide run, the colonel said the same extension is even possible for the city, if people dream big.