Marching from Keesler to Camp Shelby with a purpose

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - They're marching 84 miles from Keesler Air Force base to Camp Shelby. Airmen from the 602nd training group provisional gathered before sunrise Wednesday morning at the Biloxi base. They're commemorating the end of a mission and honoring some fallen airmen.

"I'm proud of what you're doing. You're a great part of this unit. And I can't wait to see you complete this mission in a couple of days," said Major General Leonard Patrick, as he spoke to the airmen.

It was just before dawn outside Second Air Force headquarters.

"And you're representing more than just Second Air Force. You're representing this right here.  I'm talking about the big U.S. that starts right here on your chest," said Chief Master Sergeant David Staton.

Twenty airmen are participating in this commemorative mission. It's called a ruck march because of their large backpacks, known as ruck sacks. And this march is symbolic.

"In the training, we've trained over 30 thousand airmen with the Army. And ten of those airmen are no longer with us today. They sacrificed the ultimate.  And what we are doing is commemorating them," said Col. Melanie Milburn, who commands the 602nd Training Group (Provisional).

The march also recognizes the end of a mission: Seven years of supporting the war fighting effort by providing combat-ready airmen.

"The 84 miles represents the 84 months that we've been in service supporting the joint mission in Afghanistan and Iraq," William Baros explained.

The commander took the first leg of the ruck march down Pass Road. The ruck sack holds a symbolic 23 pounds of sand.

"Thirteen pounds will represent the 13 detachments that have fallen under the group at different times. And the ten extra pounds are for the ten airmen that we lost," Col. Milburn explained.

Various teams are rotating to complete the 84 mile trek. The airmen arrive at Camp Shelby on Friday.

The 602nd Training Group Provisional is the smallest group at Keesler with 34 members. It's made-up of permanently assigned airmen from Keesler, along with deployed airmen from bases around the world.

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