944th Fighter Wing Honors Fallen Comrades with Commemorative Ruck March

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Tyler J. Bolken
  • 944th Fighter Wing

Beating the sunrise, several members of the 944th Fighter Wing gathered at the Red Tail F-16 airpark at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., June 2, 2024, to partake in the inaugural "Fallen Comrade Ruck," an event aimed at honoring those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice for their country.

The 944th Top Three organized the ruck, which saw participants from various squadrons come together, carrying weighted packs or vests for a two-mile trek, starting with a roll call at 5 a.m.

Master Sgt. Brandon Sheppard, 944th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron assistant flight chief of accessories and the lead organizer for the event, emphasized the profound significance of hosting it.

"The purpose of this was to make sure we don't lose or ever forget the whole reasoning behind Memorial Day, why we serve, the sacrifice so many have made before us, and will continue to do to protect this country," said Sheppard, a native of Littleton, Colo.

Reflecting on his own personal loss, he added, "In 2011, I lost a brother in Iraq to an IED blast. From that point, it's been important to me to honor that and continue that legacy."

Participants also contributed to a food drive, bringing canned goods that were collected at the end of the ruck to be donated to local food banks. This added an element of community service to the commemorative efforts, emphasizing the wing’s commitment to service before self.

Chief Master Sgt. Derek Chesley, 944th AMXS wing weapons manager and Chiefs Group President, played a pivotal role in rallying the troops.

"The top three put this together as a Memorial Day event for the wing. It's definitely important, especially to get people out of the office, off the flight line and get them together for events like this," said Chesley, a native of Charles County, Md.

He highlighted the event’s dual role in building morale and fostering camaraderie across different parts of the wing.

“Being relatively new to the wing, getting to meet and see this many people together is really awesome,” Chesley remarked.

Senior Airman Jillian Wolters, 944th Medical Squadron medical technician, found the event particularly impactful.

"These experiences are important. It boosts morale, you get to know other people within the 944th, but then you kind of get to remember the basis of why we serve," said Wolters, a native of Phoenix, Ariz.

The "Fallen Comrade Ruck" is planned to be an annual event, with hopes to grow each year in scale and participation. This year’s ruck march not only honored the fallen but also strengthened the bonds among those who serve, providing a poignant reminder of the sacrifices made by their brothers and sisters in arms.

“It would be awesome to see the whole wing out here,” said Sheppard.