Walk for the Fallen

By Chief Master Sergeant Antonio (Tony) Travis, Chief Enlisted Manager, Air Force Special Operations Training Center

I did this memorial ruck last year when it first started. The legs were a little longer and the temperature was 10 to 15 degrees higher making it very challenging. Most legs last year were 14 to 19 miles; this year they are around 10 to 15.

The first march was in honor of Staff Sgt. Tim Davis, a Combat Controller from the 23rd Special Tactics Squadron, who was killed in combat on Feb. 20, 2009. We all took his loss extremely hard, just like all our other brothers in arms we lost before and after. Tim left behind a beautiful wife and son.

When I received the call asking if I would be interested in carrying a 50-pound rucksack from Lackland AFB, San Antonio, TX, to Hurlburt Field, Fla., my initial thought was to tell them to go pack sand. Then, Master Sgt. Huhman and Capt. Schindler explained why they wanted to do the march, and I immediately volunteered. They used the magic words “it’s for a team mate”; they wanted to honor Staff Sgt. Davis and the rest of our fallen team mates. Davis loved to ruck, and it was fitting that we should honor him by rucking.

The plan was to start at Lackland (the start point of every Combat Controller’s career field) and finish at Hurlburt Field, Florida (Special Tactics Training Squadron, the last school  they attend before going to an operational unit). We also hoped to raise awareness for the Special Operations Warrior Foundation. The Special Operations Warrior Foundation provides full scholarship grants, educational and family counseling to the surviving children of special operations personnel who die in operational or training missions, and immediate financial assistance to severely wounded special operations personnel and their families.            

Last year was challenging logistically as well as physically, but we pushed through and finished on time. We have some great memories from last year’s march. Walking through Liberty, TX at about 1:30 a.m. and  having a block party with hundreds of people to cheer us on. Also, a Vietnam Veteran came up to me and asked if I would wear his POW/MIA bracelet for the rest of the march. After I agreed, his eyes filled with tears, which I thought was strange until he explained it was his brother’s name on the bracelet. It did not come off my wrist for the rest of the march.

Entering Opelousas, La., my partner and I were struggling to make up time when we met several older women waiting patiently in the rain for us. We stopped and gave them all hugs, tears welling up in their eyes and remembering their own losses as they wished us well and thanked us for what we were doing. We didn’t expect that; we were just honoring our teammates and were overwhelmed with the outpouring of support and emotions we received. I guess our loss and how we were dealing with it resonated with a lot of people. On another late rainy night crossing the Alabama/Florida state line, Patriot Guard members lined up for a half mile, standing at attention holding flags. We shook all their hands and thanked them for coming out.

Walking a dark road in the middle of the night with my teammate, both lost in thought, thinking my feet are killing me, my back is about to go out, where the heck are we and there isn’t any place we would rather be in the world than right there at that particular moment in time having family members of our fallen brothers walk the last five miles with us to the finish line. It must have been a dusty day because our eyes were filled with tears– yeah dust in the air. We finished at STTS and turned the Batons over, each one engraved with the name of a fallen teammate we carried 860 miles to be placed in the Hall of Heroes. I carried Capt Derek Argels, who was my flight commander at the 23rd STS. His five-year-old son, Logan, walked up to Lt. Col. Spanovich and handed his father’s baton over while I saluted.            

I swore I would never do this again after almost losing a toe, but when the call came in again this year, I once again immediately volunteered, forgetting the pain, only remembering the teammates who gave the ultimate sacrifice. What is a few days of discomfort compared to what they did? The teams are not the same this year, several are deployed from last year, but the cause remains the same. Once again, the support we have received has been overwhelming. My partner and I walked mostly at night running into someone who has waited half the night just so they wouldn’t miss us, simply to say thank you, spend a few moments with us, then watch us disappear into the night with spirits lifted and more miles to go.

We picked up police escorts that followed us keeping us safe. They also know the feeling of losing a teammate. One day, Noel Carrol (Tim Davis’ sister), linked up with us and walked the rest of the way. The first five miles this year we were joined by family members of SrA Danny Sanchez (killed in action over three weeks ago) and Staff Sgt. Davis. This year, I carried a Baton engraved with SrA Adam Servais’s name. He was one of my Airmen– quick to smile, faster on the comeback or joke, willing to give you the shirt off his back if needed and an outstanding operator. His parents, Pete and Sue, walked the last five miles with us again this year. You see, they are and will forever be part of our Special Tactics family. They know we will never forget their son and will always be there for them. Despite the sore back, the toe that is in jeopardy of coming off again and the long nights on the road, there is nowhere else any of us would have rather been than there, walking with our brothers, both past and present, lost in thought on some lonely road, teammate by our side, finish line just over the next hill, or maybe the hill after that, or the next one after that.

I wish Tim had enjoyed basket weaving instead of rucking, which would have been easier on the feet.

PHOTO: Airmen and family members join 15 Airmen Oct. 9, 2010, who are starting the Tim Davis Special Tactics Memorial March that will take them from Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, to Hurlburt Field, Fla. They are marching to honor fallen special tactics Airmen and their journey will cover more than 800 miles as they pass through five states. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Desiree N. Palacios)