Ruck march honors Airman, friend
By Airman 1st Class Katrina Heikkinen, 341st Missile Wing Public Affairs
/ Published April 12, 2013
MALMSTROM AIR FORCE BASE, MONT. --
A cluster of 100 Airmen in uniform made their way up the River's Edge Trail. While some proudly carried flags from the 341st Security Forces Group, others carried 70-pound rucksacks. They were exhausted, tired and dripping with sweat. But the physical and emotional pain they felt was a reminder of fallen Airmen who made the ultimate sacrifice for serving their country.
Spearheaded by the 341st SFG, the all-day event held April 3 included a CrossFit workout, remembrance ceremony and an 8.3-mile ruck march - all to honor the five-year anniversary of Staff Sgt. Travis Griffin's sacrifice.
For Master Sgt. James Howard, 341st Missile Security Forces Squadron member, Master Sgt. Justin Duncan, 341st Security Forces Squadron member, and Capt. Brian Rutt, 341st SFG officer in charge, who were deployed with Griffin at the time of his death, the event was especially meaningful.
Duncan, Rutt, Griffin and Howard were assigned to Det. 3, 732 Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron, as part of a police transition team in Baghdad, Iraq, from 2007 to 2008. They were in charge of conducting training operations with local Iraqi police in order to police Baghdad citizens with a fully capable police force. During that deployment, their close friend and fellow Airman - Griffin - was killed by an improvised explosive device on April 3, 2008.
"It was a hard because it was the first death of our team and we were all very close," Duncan said. "But when something like that happens, the mission can't stop. We had to keep going. When everyone returned, [from the deployment] that's when the grieving really started."
"At the time [of the deployment], myself, Duncan and Griffin were staff sergeants and were in charge of 16 Airmen so we became very good friends," Howard said. "After his death and the deployment, many dealt with it differently. The things we saw - the detention cells, their [Baghdad citizens] quality of life - was a shock to some of the Airmen who had never deployed. When I returned from my deployment I took up skydiving because the adrenaline was gone."
Every year around April 3, the three Airmen work together conducting CrossFit workouts - called "The Griff," and ruck marches in honor of Griffin. This year being the fifth anniversary, they wanted to hold something bigger involving the community of Great Falls.
"We want to keep his memory alive," Duncan said. "We wanted the local community to see what we're doing so we can continue to tell Travis' story. Travis is our fallen brother and this event is our way of honoring him and all other fallen service members. The pain that we endure on this ruck march pales in comparison to the ultimate sacrifice others have made. Travis wanted to leave Iraq knowing that we had done something [for his country]."
Although the shock of a death in their close-knit team was a reminder of the danger of the missions they were doing, for the three Team Malmstrom members, the decision to stay in the U.S. Air Force was almost automatic.
"I always knew this was going to be a career for me," Duncan said. "I know what this job entails and what the risks are. I've always wanted to serve my country. For me to not accept that risk and to separate [after the deployment] would be a dishonor for those people who died."
"Even though I did lose a brother, I volunteered to serve my country and with that comes deployments," Howard said. "The pain we feel physically and emotionally [doing the ruck march] is why we're doing it. It's not a smoke session; it's not a time to be competitive; it's so that when we wake up the next morning feeling physical pain, it's to remind us that Griffin and other Airmen who have died don't have that opportunity anymore. It's a reminder that there's more to serving your country than showing up to work every day."
Griffin was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart for heroism and giving the ultimate sacrifice - his life.