by Senior Airman Charles Rivezzo
60th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs
5/20/2015 - TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- One
by one the families of fallen service members stood for applause as the
name of their loved one was prominently announced and their picture
proudly displayed. It was the opening ceremony to the 5th Annual Gold
Star Families Ruck March on May 16.
Different shades of camouflaged uniforms from past and present filled the warehouse. It was a standing-room only event.
"Your sons, daughters, husbands, wives, brothers and sisters have given
the ultimate sacrifice," said Chief Master Sgt. Alan Boling, 60th Air
Mobility Wing command chief, in his opening remarks. "This is something
we all raise our hand to do, If needed, but very few of us are
challenged with such a momentous task."
Those distinct words washed over the somber room. For those in
attendance, all around them were photos, memories and stories of their
fellow service members who gave their lives for their country.
Yolanda Vega, the Golden Gate Chapter of the American Gold Star Mothers
president, served as the ceremonies guest speaker. She opened with a
question she commonly receives, "What is a ruck?"
"From where I'm standing a ruck is as simple as walking or as difficult
as moving fast with your military gear," she said. "It's done to honor
Gold Star Families. It's done to keep the memory of our fallen heroes
Vega, whose son, Senior Airman Jonathan V. Yelner, was killed in action
on April 28, 2008, by an improvised explosive device near Bagram
Airfield, Afghanistan, closed with a "thank you" to all those in
"The military knew them as men and women. We knew them as our boys and
girls," she said. "While it hurts to look back and we're afraid to look
forward, it's good to know we can look beside us and see you are there.
Willing to be silent and just listen. Today, I am humbled by the
generosity of strangers wanting to show their appreciation and respect."
At the conclusion of the ceremony, the ruck march participants assembled
and lined up at the starting line. Ahead of them was a 6.2-mile trek
with a 30-pound sack strapped to their backs and a note card of the
fallen service member they were marching for.
"This was a way for us to show our appreciation and respect to the
families and our fallen," said Master Sgt. John Werner, 60th Aircraft
Maintenance Squadron first sergeant. "To let them know they will never
Werner said that the four hour event encompassed the full emotion of
military life. It featured celebration, remembrance, mourning, service,
sacrifice, duty, pain and victory as they completed the march.
"It's important for us to feel all of that and it's an inspiring sight
to see the participants and the family member sharing that energy
together," he said.
Werner mentioned one moment in particular that stood out to him. At the
one-mile marker, one of the participants had a blister and removed her
boots. She continued barefoot for the duration of the march.
"She knew she was carrying far more than 30-pounds in her ruck. She was
carrying the name of one of our fallen as well," Werner said. "It's such
a simple moment, but it struck me as everything this event was all
"There was not one person out there who was going to fail. Everyone
brought their brother or sister home when they crossed the finish line.
It's why we fight. It's why we win. It's all for each other."
More than 270 participants registered for the Travis First Sergeants
Council sponsored event, raising more than $3,000. All proceeds will
support the annual GSF Honor and Remembrance event held at the Marine's
Memorial Club and Hotel in San Francisco.
"Hosting this event was a greater honor and responsibility for us,"
Werner said. "We felt an incredible sense of appreciation towards every
single person who contributed to making the day a success. It was
obvious how much this one event meant to everyone involved."