After more than two months and 2,100 miles of marching, a flight of security forces Airmen completed the Security Forces 9/11 Ruck March to Remember Sept. 11. The last leg of their march began at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum and ended at Battery Park, where 2,796 flags covered the area to honor each person who died on 9/11.
More than 300 active-duty, Guard and Reserve Airmen from 23 units took turns marching from the Security Forces Center at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, on July 12 to New York, handing off a guidon at each leg to honor the security forces members and Americans who died on 9/11 and in the ensuing wars.
"We've marched the last two months to remember our fallen, to honor the sacrifices of our defenders and their families ... whose lives changed forever with ours," said Col. Alan Metzler, the chief of security forces at Air Combat Command. "We marched to remember this new generation of Americans who fought this new enemy in this new war."
The Airmen battled against summer heat, hurricanes, torrential rain, sore feet and tired backs, they said, but it was the overwhelming support from people throughout their march that gave them the strength to persevere.
"Every time you felt like you were getting beat down and you couldn't do it anymore, someone drove by and honked or someone came by and shook our hands," said Tech. Sgt. Kenneth Broughman, the NCO in charge of training at the 4th Security Forces Squadron at Seymour Johnson AFB, N.C. "We were hosted every night; we actually had to turn meals away because we didn't have enough time to eat them all. Everyone wanted to give us free food, and everyone wanted to let us stay with them for the night. It was really overwhelming."
Whether it was a simple honk by a passing driver or a caring veteran offering their home for the night, one thing rang clear about American's support for the Airmen who participated in the march.
"They never forgot," Broughman said. "We just wanted the awareness that we're still doing this; that we're still deployed. We gave them an outlet so they could say thank you, but no one forgot."
One such person was Barry Schneider, who saw the Airmen marching in New Jersey and stopped to thank them for their service.
"It means everything to me; it touches my heart as an American," he said. "I've always felt bad because I never served my country, but because of what they do, I can stand here now. I'm holding back tears."
As the flight of Airmen marched through Washington Heights to Times Square Sept. 10, they were met with cheers, salutes and a police escort. One of the New York police officers who escorted the security forces members was Sgt. Marc Sommers, who is an Air Force Reserve security forces master sergeant assigned to the 105th Security Forces Squadron at Stewart Air National Guard Base, N. Y.
"(The Ruck March) means a lot to me," he said. "I was there that day, and I lost a good friend, Jerome Dominguez."
Dominguez was also an Air Force Reserve security forces member and New York police officer. He died on 9/11 while attempting to rescue people from the World Trade Center.
"It was devastating (when Dominguez died) because he was our heart and soul," Sommers said. "It's a great honor (to provide the escort) because it's what Jerome would have wanted, too. He would have wanted to take the escort because of the type of guy he was, and we have a legacy that we like to carry on in his honor. He was always service before self. He would give the shirt off his back for anyone."
During the march, the Airmen laid wreaths at the site of where United Flight 93 crashed in Shanksville, Pa., at the Pentagon and at Battery Park -- just a few blocks away from where the World Trade Center once stood.
While the march was met with overwhelming support from the security forces community, the important thing to remember is that the Airmen who stayed behind made sure their home missions kept going, Broughman said.
"To be able to put this together and continue to keep the mission going, speaks to the versatility of the security forces career field," Broughman said. "No one missed a deployment; there were no mission stoppages at home because of it. There were bases that had major inspections two days before they started their portion of the march."
The ruck march first began in November 2010 with an idea between Broughman and Maj. Jim Alves, also from the 4th SFS.
"At first, it was kind of overwhelming because we didn't think there was a way we could get it done," Broughman said. "But we broke down the route into 15 legs, and at the first of the year, we sent (a message) out to the units asking if they would be interested in participating. Their response was an overwhelming, 'Yes.'"
From there, Broughman sent routes to each unit's lead point of contact, and they made minor alterations to make it easier for them, he said.
One of the leads was Master Sgt. Chris Wright, the operations superintendent at the 87th Security Forces Squadron at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J. He led 25 other security forces Airmen from Hazelton, Pa., to Times Square and marched more than 70 miles himself through their four-day march.
"I put myself in a happy place when I really started hurting," he said. "You really have to find that thing that you're doing it for, which is those people and their families. I thought about the people who passed away and really about their families."
Each Airman who took part in the march had his or her own reason for marching, said Staff Sgt. Lawrence Aiello, assigned to the 108th Contingency Response Group at JB McGuire.
"I did it for everything that happened on 9/11 and for my kids to show them that they know Dad's out there doing his part for his country," he said.
Their mission ended with a simple, "Dismissed," as Alves released his flight at Battery Park, but before they left, he told them the significance of what they accomplished.
"You will march off knowing you have become a part of history -- history of security forces, history of the Air Force, history of the military and history of the United States," he said.
Article by Staff Sgt. Chris Powell, Defense Media Activity