Airmen march 824 miles to remember fallen brothers

By Steve Phillips - bio | email

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - They are marching across the country to honor their brothers killed in combat. A dozen members of the Air Force's special tactics team are walking 824 miles from San Antonio, Texas to the Florida panhandle.

The memorial march came through the Mississippi Gulf Coast late Wednesday morning.

As the memorial marchers approached the White Avenue entrance to Keesler Air Force Base, combat control students from Keesler lined-up to welcome the marchers and join them on part of the journey.

"This march is actually to memorialize 12 special tactics fallen members that have been killed in operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom," marcher Tim Hoye said.

The twelve member team rotates pairs of marchers and makes the switch during the Keesler stop.

"It's been a great experience. It's been a little rough, but it's definitely one of those things," said David White with the 23rd Special Tactics Squadron. "The twelve of us, all being combat controllers, it's just a small sacrifice that we can make for those guys that made the ultimate sacrifice."

Keesler students form an "avenue of flags" to welcome the marchers: flags from every state and U.S. territory.

"The march has been awesome so far," said marcher Jesse Schrader, also a member of the 23rd. "We've had awesome support from the community and everyone involved. They've supported us with food and water along the way. And we're finishing up here, getting close to the finish."

The marchers tote 50 pound back packs and carry custom made batons that list the names of the airmen killed in combat.

"I carry the actual baton for John Chapman, who is really a true friend of mine, and he was killed in one of the first battles in Afghanistan; and five other members I was in actual combat with, who have paid the ultimate sacrifice," said Hoye, who's a chief at Combat Control Headquarters. "So, each step of this 824 mile march I think of each one of those men and what they've done."

They'll finish the march at Hurlbert Field in Florida. The memorial batons will be presented to family members during a special weekend ceremony.

There are about 400 to 450 members of the Air Force's special tactics unit.  The elite group is similar to the Navy Seals or Army Special Forces. Only 30 percent of the students who train, will ultimately make the team.

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