FORT LEE, Va. - Five fallen members of the Air Transportation community were honored at a Port Dawg Memorial Run here May 17.
The ceremony is an annual tradition for the Air Force organization that specializes in aerial port operations - managing and moving cargo at U.S. military airlift sites around the world. Staff Sgt. Matthew Owen, a 345th Training Squadron instructor, articulated the event's purpose in opening remarks.
"Being a Port Dawg is much more than just an Air Force Specialty Code. It's a family that we know we're part of for the rest of our life," he announced to the formation of roughly 300 personnel who had formed up around 5:30 a.m. in front of the 345th TRS dormitory.
"Today, we give respect to our wingmen who have moved on in the past year," Owens continued. "You see before you two forklifts, a vital tool of our trade. Draped between them is a chain to symbolize life's journey each of us make. On that chain are five devices, each representing those who have passed. Our youngest generation of Port Dawgs stand ready to fill the boots of those who have gone. Today, we'll carry them with us for one last journey."
Remembered this year were Master Sgt. Jerry Cote, a USAF Reserve airman who served with the 42nd Aerial Port Squadron, Westover, Mass.; MSgt. Ivan Reyes, active duty, Defense Threat Reduction Agency, Travis Air Force Base, Calif.; Staff Sgt. Michael Berglin, active duty, 354th Logistics Readiness Squadron, Eielson Air Base, Alaska; Senior Airman William Garber, active duty, 21st LRS, Peterson AFB, Colo.; and Airman 1st Class Brian Bradford, active duty, 721stt APS, Ramstein Air Base, Germany.
Owens cited statistics to drive home the significance of what the Port Dawg community does for U.S. military operations around the world. Last year, 11,000 air transporters were responsible for the movement of 1 million passengers and 400,000 tons of cargo. Nearly 600 of its members are deployed, and Owens said they're operating at 233 locations that are providing air support for the global war on terrorism.
"The sun never sets on America's Port Dawgs," Owens proudly stated. "We are on duty 24 hours a day, 365 days a year in every continent around the planet."
Chief Master Sgt. Randy Sadler, Air Transportation career field manager, also spoke about the significance of the moment and the takeaway message for the newly enlisted airmen in training standing before him.
"(These annual ceremonies) are always a solemn and somber occasion, and one of the things that makes and keeps our community so strong," he said. "We pray that none of our names or your names end up on a t-shirt or have to be represented by a device such as the ones used for this ceremony.
"We have an obligation while wearing the uniform to watch out for each other," he continued. "I challenge each and every one of you to go forward after training at Fort Lee with this message in your minds and hearts - among our most sacred duties is to be (risk) indicators for each other and to take care of our fellow Port Dog wingmen."
The memorial service was capped off by a troop run. Five participants carried the cargo tie-down devices that represented the fallen airmen. One of them was A1C Drew Huskey, an Air Transportation Course student hailing from Cincinnati.
"It means a lot to run for our community and continue the tradition of respect for our fallen, past and present," he said after the run. "It shows the camaraderie of our field. We will always carry memories like this with us.
Airman Basic Stephanie Woodson, a student hailing from Redlands, Colo., also shared the honor.
"All of this really does represent so much more than a simple memorial service," she observed. "It helps drives home the point that when you come into the military, you join a family. To me, that's one of the biggest benefits I've experienced as a new airman. These people have my back, and that gives me confidence personally and professionally."
Huskey paused to consider the significance of the gathering before summing up what message it sends to the Port Dawgs who are no longer with them. "We're saying to them, 'You may be gone, but you'll never be forgotten. You will always be with us in spirit and heart. We carry your memory and honor with us every day."