Military News

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Ruck march honors Gold Star Families

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 alive."

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 attendance.

"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 be forgotten."

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 about.

"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."

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