31Heroes Project: The Ruck To Remember: The Sound of Freedom
(Some Thoughts~August 8th)
This past Sunday morning was a bright, warm, and sticky morning as my comrades and I literally limped into Arlington National Cemetery, Washington, D.C. My instruments recorded we had traveled some 81,722 steps, around 35.7 miles in 783 minutes, roughly 13.05 hours throughout the night of August 6th and the early morning hours of the 7th. My tired aching body had consumed over 8000 calories. Needless to say, it had been a gruelling, tough evening as over 200 men and women had gathered at the Lincoln Memorial the night before to “ruck” (carry a backpack) some 31 miles to remember and to support the families of the 31 fallen heroes of Extortion 17. This year’s 31Heroes Project event marked the fifth year of this tragic incident. On August 6, 2011, a CH-47 Chinook helicopter was shot down by enemy fire in Afghanistan. This tragedy resulted in the deaths of 30 active duty military members and 1 military working dog, and left shocked and broken families in its wake. The event is considered the worst loss of life in a single incident during the Afghanistan Campaign.
As we moved away from the Lincoln Memorial and into the darkened D.C. streets, we passed or visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the Korean War Memorial, Constitution Gardens, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, the DC War Memorial, Union Station, the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, the George Mason Memorial, the World War II Memorial, the Washington Monument, the Capitol Building, the Supreme Court, the Library of Congress, The White House, Montrose Park, Georgetown, Theodore Roosevelt Island, and the US Marine Corps War Memorial. As we moved past the numerous memorials and monuments, it began to dawn on me how much had been sacrificed to build our great Nation. The buildings and statues a testimony of vision, a belief in something bigger than ourselves.
Periodic stops were made throughout the night for resupply, comfort breaks, and to read the biographies of the fallen Americans of Extortion 17. It gave them substance. These men were not just casualties of war-they became real people with real families, had real hopes and real desires just like the rest of us. It made us stronger to hear about their families, their friends, their hobbies, their pets, their quirks, their patriotism, their education, and their numerous military awards. So, despite the pain we were all experiencing, we marched on, emboldened by the courage and the sacrifices of those American Patriots, those brave citizen-soldiers who had come before us. I began to pray for strength. We pulled together and met the tough challenge head-on, wanting to make sure their death was not in vain, hoping to show our personal gratitude to their families, friends, and living comrades.
At the start of the hike, we had been broken up into three groups. My group, some 52 strong at the hike’s outset, ended up with only 23 finishers. I was told there were a similar number of finishers in the other two groups. I will never forget my fellow tired “ruckers” limping into Arlington Cemetery that morning past all those clean visitors, past all those white ivory markers, past the place were two of my dad’s brothers are buried, past the place where my wife’s father is buried, to the place where the men of Extortion 17 now lie side-by-side. Cemeteries are surreal, poignant places. Especially at Arlington. If you listen hard enough, you can hear the sound of freedom. Thanks Extortion 17 Heroes. Thanks LaVonne Bower. Thanks Carrie McKnight Horton. Thanks Terry Ford. Thanks Jason Fernandez. Thanks Tim Salsgiver. May God Bless America.