Residents of Biloxi and the Gulf Coast will be able to watch a unique military tradition Friday afternoon and evening as two Special Tactics Airmen ruck along U.S. 90. In Biloxi, on Friday night the duo will be joined by about 50 Keesler officers and airmen at White Avenue.
A “ruck” or load march, involves a small group of military, mostly in pairs, traveling long distances while carrying backpacks that, with a rifle, can weigh up to 70 pounds.
The Special Tactics airmen, in 10 two-person teams, are rucking from Medina Annex at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas to Hurlburt Field, Fla., covering 830 miles over 12 days, to pay tribute to Staff Sgt. Dylan J. Elchin who was killed in Afghanistan on Nov. 27, 2018, and in honor of the other 19 Special Tactics Airmen who have been killed in action since 9/11.
Historically, Air Force Special Tactics plans a memorial march when a member is killed in action. This is the fifth Special Tactics Memorial March since 2009 and since it originated as the “Tim Davis Memorial March.” The march was renamed to honor all fallen Special Tactics Airmen in 2011 to the “Special Tactics Memorial March.”
The estimated times of arrival:
4:30 p.m. — Long Beach
7 p.m. — Gulfport
9 p.m. — Biloxi
Although the team will be traveling on sidewalks and boardwalks along U.S. 90, motorists on U.S. 90 Friday night should expect intermittent lane closures.
Keesler leadership from the Second Air Force and the 81st Training Wing as well as airmen stationed at Keesler Air Force Base will march alongside the special tactics team starting from White Avenue and U.S. Hwy 90 in Biloxi. The beach fire pits along U.S. 90 will be lit in a show of support. Additionally, the public has also been invited to support the Special Forces team as they march through the region.
“This ruck march serves to help us remember our fallen brothers and their families,” said Brig. Gen. Claude K. Tudor Jr., 24th Special Operations Wing commander. “We want to make sure they’re never forgotten. Whether or not we knew each of the men individually, they’re part of our team. They’re our brothers in arms.”
Elchin, along with U.S. Army Capt. Andrew Ross and U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Eric Emond, were killed in action when their vehicle hit an improvised explosive device in Ghazni Province, Afghanistan, Nov. 27, 2018, while deployed in support of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel. U.S. Army Sgt. Jason McClary died later as a result of injuries sustained from the IED.
As someone who knew Elchin personally, Staff Sgt. Sean O’Hearn, 24th SOW special tactics combat controller, described his personality as vibrant and infectious.
“Dylan was a dear friend of mine,” recalled O’Hearn. “He was the type of person who lit up the room. He always had a smile on his face and lifted up his teammates and friends in any situation. He always made the situation better and was someone you always wanted to be around.”
The special tactics marchers include former Keesler Air Force Base training students and the group will be carrying a memorial baton inscribed with each of the fallen Special Tactics Airman’s for the entire journey. They are marching in memory of:
Master Sgt. William McDaniel of Greenville, Ohio, Special Tactics Pararescueman, Feb. 22, 2002
Staff Sgt. Juan Ridout of Oak Harbor, Wa., 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, Wis., 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, 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, Special Tactics Combat Controller, Aug. 26, 2015
Staff Sgt. Dylan Elchin of Hookstown, Pa., Special Tactics Combat Controller, Nov. 27, 2018