Special Tactics Airmen March Across Five States To Honor Fallen Friends
Twenty airmen left Lackland Air Force Base in the early hours of Friday morning with rucksacks on their backs. It’s the start of a tribute march journey that will take them across five states and 830 miles.
They’re paying tribute to Staff Sgt. Dylan Elchin, who was killed in Afghanistan late last year, and 19 other special tactics airmen who lost their lives since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Brig. Gen. Claude Tudor Jr. and Chief Master Sgt. Jeff Guilmain, both with the 24th Special Operations Wing, attended a roundtable event Thursday to brief media about the march and its motivations.
Before beginning their remarks, each man took out a card from his pocket and studied it closely. The cards were covered with faces, small portraits of special tactics airmen killed in combat. Both commanders shared a glance, quietly pointing to faces they knew personally.
Tudor spoke about Elchin, a Special Tactics Combat Controller who died in November when an improvised explosive device detonated in Ghazni province, Afghanistan.
“He died doing what he loved,” Tudor explained. “As he would want to be remembered. He fought valiantly. He was a gentleman warrior.”
Elchin was embedded with Army Special Forces, advising ground forces and coordinating aircraft support.
Staff Sgt. Sean O’Hearn deployed with Elchin, and he described him as someone who never shied away from challenges and whose advice was regularly sought.
“He could ramble off any type of football stats there were… But he couldn’t really catch a football,” O’Hearn said, smiling. “Wasn’t the most athletic guy.”
In the wake of Elchin’s death, Guilmain spent a lot of time speaking with the airman’s teammates, family and friends.
“Everyone, unequivocally, has said that he was the guy you wanted on your team. He brought the personality, the lifeblood of the team. I think every team has one of these guys that you would never give up for anything,” Guilmain said.
Historically, Air Force Special Tactics has planned a memorial march whenever one of its members is killed in action. It’s meant to personalize their stories for future generations—and bring them all closer as a team.
“The special tactics community, we rally around our fallen as heroes,” Guilmain said. “And their families. Because the Gold Star families are the ones that we have an interest in keeping tight with our formations forever.”
Maj. Sam Schindler, a Special Tactics Officer who took part in the march in 2009, said he remembered the public welcome he received.
“The whole way through--it didn’t matter if it was the backcountry of Louisiana on a two-lane road or in major cities---everyone was able to reach out, reflect and understand why we were doing what we were doing: recognizing the individuals as warriors and for their sacrifice.”
The airmen departed from Lackland’s Medina Annex on Feb. 22 at 2 a.m. and were scheduled to arrive at Hurlburt Field, Fla., the home of the Special Tactics Training Squadron, on March 4.
To track their progress, visit http://raceday.me/v/75ea11.
The marchers carry a memorial baton inscribed with the names of the fallen Special Tactics Airmen.
Master Sgt. William McDaniel of Greenville, Ohio, Special Tactics Pararescueman, Feb. 22, 2002
Staff Sgt. Juan Ridout of Oak Harbor, Wa., Special Tactics Pararescueman, Feb. 22, 2002
Master Sgt. John Chapman of Windsor Locks, Conn., Special Tactics Combat Controller, March 4, 2002
Senior Airman Jason Cunningham of Camarillo, Calif., Special Tactics Pararescueman, March 4, 2002
Staff Sgt. Scott Sather of Clio, Mich., Special Tactics Combat Controller, April 8, 2003
Capt. Derek Argel of Lompoc, Calif., Special Tactics Officer, May 30, 2005
Capt. Jeremy Fresques of Clarksdale, Ariz., Special Tactics Officer, May 30, 2005
Staff Sgt. Casey Crate of Spanaway, Wash., Special Tactics Combat Controller, May 30, 2005
Senior Airman Adam Servais of Onalaska, Wis., Special Tactics Combat Controller, Aug. 19, 2006
Technical Sgt. Scott Duffman of Albuquerque, N.M., Special Tactics Pararescueman, Feb. 18, 2007
Technical Sgt. William Jefferson of Norfolk, Va., Special Tactics Combat Controller, March 22, 2008
Staff Sgt. Timothy Davis of Aberdeen, Wash., Special Tactics Combat Controller, Feb. 20, 2009
Senior Airman Daniel Sanchez of El Paso, Texas, Special Tactics Combat Controller, Sept. 16, 2010
Senior Airman Mark Forester of Tuscaloosa, Ala., Special Tactics Combat Controller, Sept. 29, 2010
Technical Sgt. John Brown of Tallahassee, Fla., Special Tactics Pararescueman, Aug. 6, 2011
Technical Sgt. Daniel Zerbe of York, Pa., Special Tactics Pararescueman, Aug. 6, 2011
Staff Sgt. Andrew Harvell of Long Beach, Calif., Special Tactics Combat Controller, Aug. 6, 2011
Capt. Matthew Roland of Lexington, Ky., Special Tactics Officer, Aug. 26, 2015
Staff Sgt. Forrest Sibley of Pensacola, Fla., Special Tactics Combat Controller, Aug. 26, 2015
Staff Sgt. Dylan Elchin of Hookstown, Pa., Special Tactics Combat Controller, Nov. 27, 2018
Carson Frame can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @carson_frame