JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-CAMP BULLIS, Texas — More than 1,100 Security Forces airmen gathered Nov. 8 for the 12th Annual Defender Ruck, hosted by the 343rd Training Squadron, in honor of the 186 Defender airmen who have made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of freedom.
“We host the Defender Ruck to keep the memory alive of the 186 Defenders we have lost in service of this country and to honor their families and the sacrifices they have made,” said Major Jaime Hernandez, 343 TRS commander. “Being out here and seeing the airmen’s energy — singing Jodies and chanting no one will every be left behind — is a proud moment. When you see that teamwork and heritage instilled into these Airmen you know they will carry it on from the training environment to the operational force.“
The ceremony started with a plaque unveiling and words from Gold Star mother Christine Herwick, whose son, Staff Sgt. Travis Griffin, lost his life from an improvised explosive device Apr. 3, 2008, in Baghdad, Iraq.
Herwick spoke about what it means to be part for the Defender family and how everyone will always have each other’s back. Her son had already completed six deployments, but volunteered for the seventh because he wanted to share his knowledge and experience with his team down range.
“There are no failures, only learning lessons to build upon and share with this family of Defenders,” Herwick stated. “This event proves what it means to be on this team together,” she added.
Herwick said she knows the Annual Defender Ruck will only continue to grow, and the legacy of Airmen who gave there life for this nation will never be forgotten.
A plaque was unveiled during the ruck that displayed the 186 names of all Air Force Security Forces Defenders who died performing their duties since 1950. It will be hung in Carter Hall, JBSA-Lackland, which is the location where all Air Force Security Forces training takes place—from technical training at the Security Forces Apprentice Course, to upgrade and advanced courses and all officer training at the Security Forces Academy.
“I am thankful the Defender Ruck is held here at the Gateway to Defender Nation because this new generation of Defenders get to see, with their own eyes, how we respect and memorialize those who came before us, specifically those who lost their lives,” said Chief Master Sgt. Donald Gallagher, 343 TRS chief enlisted manager. “These airmen got to see how this affected families with the Gold Star families who join us, and we get to honor and thank them for their sacrifice.”
Gallagher was personally associated with five of the 186 individuals who gave everything, serving along side two and training three others at the 105th Security Forces Squadron, Moody AFB, Ga.
“Never forget the badge and beret is something not given to us. We earn it each and every day,” said Gallagher. “It is the motto of the school house: badge and beret, earn it every day. We need to earn that here in training and as our careers progress. Never forget where we came from and that we need to conduct ourselves differently to honor one another.”
Defenders from across JBSA participated, including Airmen from the Security Forces Center, Installation Mission and Support Center, 149th Fight Wing, 902nd Air Base Wing, 502nd Air Base Wing, 341st Training Squadron, the Security Forces Academy, 343 TRS and others.
The ruck began at the JBSA-Camp Bullis parade grounds and required all participants to carry a 35-pound-minimum ruck over the 4-mile trail throughout the base.
“I have been excited to be a part of this event all week,” said Airman Basic Lance Gray, 343 TRS Security Forces Apprentice Course technical training student. “As I was competing, I realized this is more than just a run, it is about the heritage and legacy of all the Defenders who came before me and the sacrifices they have made. I cannot wait to graduate and become a Defender and serve along side this team.”
Each of the 186 fallen Defenders’ names was printed on a dog tag to be worn by an airman during the ruck to honor their heroism and selfless service. The first, second and third place individual and fire team finishers of the ruck were recognized at a medal presentation that concluded the event.
“I am extremely proud of all of my fellow Defenders,” said Hernandez. “Keep fighting the fight, and we look forward to seeing you out here next year!”
To view the closing ceremony, please visit https://tinyurl.com/DefenderRuck2019.