Military members marching 830 miles to honor fallen comrades

Military members marching 830 miles to honor fallen comrades

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Eight hundred and thirty miles is a long way to drive, let alone march.

The U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command is rucking from San Antonio to the Florida panhandle to honor their fellow brothers who have fallen in combat.

"A lot of times, we march in silence, but when we talk, a lot of dudes are passing stories back and forth because a lot of the guys marching on this trip, they all knew most of the fallen guys,” Sgt. Michael Smith said.

Air Force platoon traveling on foot from Texas to Florida honoring the fallen

Smith did not know SSgt. Dylan Elchin. He was killed when his vehicle hit an improvised explosive device (IED) in Afghanistan on Nov. 27, 2018. He was only 25-years-old. Through the stories shared through the ruck, Smith knows the importance of what he’s doing.

SSgt. Dylan Elchin
SSgt. Dylan Elchin

"It's kind of cool because you get to hear all these stories that you may've never heard if you weren't here,” he said.

1st Lt. Jaclyn Pienkowski did not know Elchin either. The stories shared during the march have helped her understand why everyone he met loved him so much.

“From what I hear, the guy that everyone wanted on their team,” Pienkowski said. “He had a quick, witty sense of humor. He could make jokes very quick.”

The platoon is made up of 20 marchers, plus 20 more in support members. They set out form Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio on Feb. 22.

"We’re headed to Hurlburt Field in Florida,” Smith said. “That’s on the panhandle.”

Each two-man team averages about 14 miles per day, with a day’s rest in between stints.

“It’s like a big relay basically, constantly walking, constantly moving. Someone is always on the road, every single hour of the day.”

Smith says the team has battled rain and heat, but overall, everyone is still going strong.

“It’s not too bad. We might get a little sweaty, that’s it. It’s not too bad. At least it’s not raining.”

He says the best part of the ruck is when people come up and ask why they are marching.

“It’s a great way to raise awareness and it’s a great way to honor our fallen. I mean, that’s the biggest reason we’re out here. The biggest reason we’re here is for SSgt. Dylan Elchin and all the other fallen and their families.”

The team plans to arrive at Hurlburt Field Mar. 4.

If you would like to support the team with donations, you can do so with the U.S. Air Force Combat Control Assoc. and Foundation. The money will go toward supporting Air Force veterans and their families, along with helping to put on events like this march.

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