Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein flew out to Hurlburt Field, Florida, on Monday to help airmen close out a memorial march to honor fallen special tactics combat controllers and pararescue jumpers that bridged five states and 830 miles.
The first time someone dies is when they “make the ultimate sacrifice,” Goldfein told Air force Times after the event. “The second is when folks stop saying their name. ... We can’t let that happen. We have to make sure we honor our fallen and take care of our Gold Star families."
“It was a fantastic event. Anytime I get to spend time with young airmen of any background it’s a good day as chief, and especially to spend time with our air commandos," Goldfein said.
This was the fifth Special Tactics Memorial March since 2009, when it first began after the death of Staff Sgt. Timothy Davis, a combat controller who was killed in Oruzgan province, Afghanistan, that year.
Historically, special tactics airmen plan a memorial march when a member is killed in action, Air Force Special Operations Command said in a news release.
This time, the march was held after the death of Staff Sgt. Dylan J. Elchin, another combat controller, who was killed in action in eastern Afghanistan Nov. 27. Elchin was killed in Ghazni province’s Andar district when the vehicle he was riding in hit a roadside bomb.
The march also honors the 19 other special tactics airmen who have been killed in action since Sept. 11, 2001. The names of the fallen are etched into batons that are passed between the ruck marchers.
The march began at the Medina Annex at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, on Feb. 22. 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.
Goldfein also officiated the ceremony to end the memorial march at Hurlburt’s Special Tactics Training Squadron.
“The quiet professionals that we remember today served others, they pushed the limits of human condition and endured without a hint of entitlement,” Goldfein said at the ceremony. “For me, that’s the essence of Special Tactics, you do what others cannot or will not do, part of a broader special operations family — where the example of those remembered today inspires everyone to give a little bit more.”
“This is family business, and you’ll always be part of our Air Force family,” Goldfein added. “Because we’re all part of joint warfighting team. We train together, fight together, bleed together and mourn together.”
AFSOC’s Gold Star families, as well as those from sister services, were in attendance.
“The ruck is a good way to pass on people’s memories and to continue to talk about them,” Staff Sgt. Matt Smith, a combat controller with the 24th Special Operations Wing, said in an AFSOC news release.
“When you lose guys like Dylan, it is important to take the time to remember them and tell their stories," Smith added. "By doing things like this, where we can just stop for 11 days and ruck in their honor, it shows our Gold Star families how important our brothers are to us.”
Kyle Rempfer is an editor and reporter whose investigations have 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.