Twenty special tactics airmen are marching from Texas to Florida to pay tribute to Staff Sgt. Dylan J. Elchin, a special tactics combat controller, who was killed in action in eastern Afghanistan Nov. 27.
The airmen set off from the Medina Annex at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, at 2 a.m. Friday morning. They are scheduled to arrive at Hurlburt Field, Florida, Mar. 4 at 1 p.m.
The ruck march will also honor the 19 other special tactics airmen who have been killed in action since Sept. 11, 2001, Air Force Special Operations Command said in a news release Thursday.
Elchin was killed in Ghazni province’s Andar district when the vehicle he was riding in hit a large roadside bomb. Army Green Berets Capt. Andrew Ross and Sgt. 1st Class Eric Emond were also killed in the blast.
Army Sgt. Jason McClary, an infantryman, died in early December from injuries sustained during the explosion.
The march to honor Elchin traces the training pipeline he took to become a special tactics airman. All combat controllers begin their training at the Medina Annex and graduate more than two years later from the Special Tactics Training Squadron at Hurlburt Field.
The march crosses five states and 830 miles.
Historically, special tactics airmen plan a memorial march when a member is killed in action, AFSOC said in the news release.
“The ruck marchers are composed of 10 teams of two Special Tactics Airmen,” the release reads. “These Airmen will begin the march by rucking the first 4.7 miles together. From there, each team will ruck an average of 12 miles per leg and alternate teams.”
“Each day, the teams will ruck a combined 70 miles to complete the 830-mile journey over 11 days.”
This is the fifth memorial march since 2009, when it originated in honor of Staff Sgt. Timothy Davis, a combat controller who was killed in Oruzgan province, Afghanistan, that year.
The marchers carry a baton inscribed with the names of each of the fallen:
- Master Sgt. William McDaniel of Greenville, Ohio, special tactics pararescueman, Feb. 22, 2002
- Staff Sgt. Juan Ridout of Oak Harbor, Wash., special tactics pararescueman, Feb. 22, 2002
- Master Sgt. John Chapman of Windsor Locks, Conn., special tactics combat controller, Mar. 4, 2002
- Senior Airman Jason Cunningham of Camarillo, Calif., special tactics pararescueman, Mar. 4, 2002
- Staff Sgt. Scott Sather of Clio, Mich., special tactics combat controller, April 8, 2003
- Capt. Derek Argel of Lompoc, Calif., special tactics officer, May 30, 2005
- Capt. Jeremy Fresques of Clarksdale, Ariz., special tactics officer, May 30, 2005
- Staff Sgt. Casey Crate of Spanaway, Wash., special tactics combat controller, May 30, 2005
- Senior Airman Adam Servais of Onalaska, Wisc., special tactics combat controller, Aug. 19, 2006
- Technical Sgt. Scott Duffman of Albuquerque, N.M., special tactics pararescueman, Feb. 18, 2007
- Technical Sgt. William Jefferson of Norfolk, Va., special tactics combat controller, Mar. 22, 2008
- Staff Sgt. Timothy Davis of Aberdeen, Wash., special tactics combat controller, Feb. 20, 2009
- Senior Airman Daniel Sanchez of El Paso, Texas, special tactics combat controller, Sep. 16, 2010
- Senior Airman Mark Forester of Tuscaloosa, Ala., special tactics combat controller, Sep. 29, 2010
- Technical Sgt. John Brown of Tallahassee, Fla., special tactics pararescueman, Aug. 6, 2011
- Technical Sgt. Daniel Zerbe of York, Pa., special tactics pararescueman, Aug. 6, 2011
- Staff Sgt. Andrew Harvell of Long Beach, Calif., special tactics combat controller, Aug. 6, 2011
- Capt. Matthew Roland of Lexington, Ky., special tactics officer, Aug. 26, 2015
- Staff Sgt. Forrest Sibley of Pensacola, Fla., special tactics combat controller, Aug. 26, 2015
- Staff Sgt. Dylan Elchin of Hookstown, Pa., special tactics combat controller, Nov. 27, 2018
Among the 19 fallen airmen are both combat controllers and pararescue jumpers, which both serve in special tactics squadrons — Special Operation Command’s tactical air and ground integration force.
The airmen conduct missions involving global access, precision air strikes, combat search and rescue and battlefield surgery.
There are roughly 1,000 special tactics airmen in service today, according to AFSOC.
They are the most decorated community in the Air Force since the end of the Vietnam War, according to the news release, with one Medal of Honor, 10 Air Force Crosses, and 44 Silver Stars awarded since that time.
Observers can track the memorial ruck march here: http://raceday.me/v/75e11.
Kyle Rempfer is an editor and reporter who has covered combat operations, criminal cases, foreign military assistance and training accidents. Before entering journalism, Kyle served in U.S. Air Force Special Tactics and deployed in 2014 to Paktika Province, Afghanistan, and Baghdad, Iraq.