By Michael Golembesky
21st Space Wing Public Affairs staff writer
SANTA FE TRAIL, Colo. — Blistering heat, fatigue and pain is how eight Airmen plan to pay honor to the victims and survivors of the Bataan Death March.
The Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station Airmen have been training for months and are taking part in this year’s annual march in New Mexico March 23.
The 25th Annual Bataan Memorial Death March is a challenging march through the high-desert terrain of White Sands Missile Range to honor a special group of World War II heroes. The men who fought there defended the islands of Luzon, Corregidor and the harbor defense forts of the Philippines, sacrificing their freedom, health and, in many cases, their lives.
On April 9, 1942, tens of thousands of American and Filipino soldiers were surrendered to Japanese forces. The Americans were from the Army, Army Air Corps, Navy and Marines.
They marched for days in the scorching heat through the Philippine jungles. Thousands died. Those who survived faced the hardships of a prisoner of war camp, while others were wounded or killed when unmarked enemy ships transporting prisoners of war to Japan were sunk by U.S. Air and Naval forces.
For many of the Airmen marching, this will be their first time participating. Preparing has been a team effort.
“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity and to be able to do this with a bunch of guys that I have been stationed with is an honor,” said Master Sgt. Ryan Devine, 721st Mission Support Group first sergeant.
“What is really unique is we have every rank for security forces represented here from A1C, all the way to chief master sergeant, including our first sergeant,” said Chief Master Sgt. Mark Hammack, 721st Security Forces Squadron security forces manager.
The annual Bataan Memorial Death March is not only an opportunity to honor the memory of those lost in the march, but also a time for team-building and learning lessons about leadership.
“The Air Force wasn’t even in existence when the Bataan Death March happened, and it is going to be awesome to see our younger enlisted folks taking part in honoring them,” said Hammack. “They are our replacements; it’s about leadership and inspiration — being a leader, regardless of your rank.”
Devine echoed Hammack’s sentiments. Putting the same emphasis on leadership and mentoring the next generation of Airmen to carry the Air Force into the future.
“It’s the challenge of being involved in something humbling like this. They (younger Airmen) are going to get an amazing leadership lesson out of this,” said Devine. “A forced prison march is a story of persevering and never giving up, regardless of the odds against you. This event is all about persevering and these young Airmen are going to get to experience that firsthand.”
The eight member team will march 26.2 miles, each carrying a 35-pound patrol pack full of non-perishable food items that will be donated to the New Mexico Food Bank. Last year the march produced nearly 14,000 pounds of food for the Roadrunner Food Bank.
“It is a big deal. Our service is relatively young compared to the Army, Marine Corps and Navy. We are going out there to represent our service and show them we are just as tough and gritty in our esprit de corps and camaraderie. It is important that we share that with the other services as well. Any opportunity you get to interface with the other services helps to strengthen our relationships in this joint environment,” said Devine.
Taking part in the annual Bataan Memorial Death March means many different things to many different people, but the message is clear — it is a humbling challenge to honor those who perished and survived the brutal march.
In addition to the group of eight from CMAFS, there is a team from the 10th Security Forces Squadron at the U.S. Air Force Academy and a group of chief master sergeants from Peterson who are marching in memory of retired Chief Master Sgt. Suzette Cherry, former 302nd Airlift Wing command chief who passed away last year.
For more information about the annual Bataan Memorial Death March, visit http://www.bataanmarch.com/.