HURLBURT FIELD — After 11 days, 20 Special Tactics airmen completed their 830-mile Special Tactics Memorial March by arriving at Hurlburt Field Monday afternoon.
The memorial march is only conducted when the special tactics team loses a member in combat. This year the airmen rucked to pay tribute to Staff Sgt. Dylan Elchin, who was killed on November 27, 2018 in Afghanistan, as well as 19 other Special Tactics airmen who have been killed in action since Sept. 11, 2001.
Carrying 50-pound ruck sacks, the team of airmen left the Medina Annex of Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, on Feb. 22. The route to Hurlburt Field mimics the two-year training process Special Tactics airmen go through as they begin their training at Medina Annex and later graduate at Hurlburt Field.
For the first and last 5 miles of the march, all of the airmen marched together. But for the majority of the trip, they were split into teams so that one team was always marching 24 hours a day. Each team member averaged 80 miles of walking.
“Although it is nice that we’re done now because my legs hurt, I would say it was an incredible event and I’m really glad I was able to be part of it,” said Chief Master Sgt Jeffrey Guilmain, the 24th Special Operations Wing command chief.
Guilmain said the march was a very personal event for him as he knew most of the men that were being memorialized by the event.
Each team member carried a wooden baton with the name of a fallen airman engraved on it. During a ceremony to conclude the march, the batons were ceremoniously passed on to another Special Tactics airman and will be kept at the Special Tactics training squadron.
“We hope that we never have to pull them out again,” Guilmain said. “But we will be prepared to do it again if we have to.”
Even though the marchers had to deal with bad weather, blistered feet and sore muscles, Guilmain said public support helped keep the men in good spirits.
“We had local businesses that heard that the march was coming through and … within a day they put together food for us,” he said. “Some of the guys who were marching were signing baseball caps for kids who came out to the street. We met a lot of incredible people and a lot of really patriotic Americans.”
During Monday's ceremony, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein spoke to the men who marched, the family members of the fallen and members of the 24th Special Operations wing.
“America sleeps well at night because warriors like the ones we honor today stood the watch and warriors like you continue to stand the watch,” he said. “To our Gold Star families, we’re committed to ensuring that your father, your husband, your son, your brother, will never die twice; first on the worst day of your life, when they make the ultimate sacrifice and again if their service would ever stop saying their name.
"We will always remember.”