By Shandi DixJune 21, 2010
FORT RILEY, Kan. - Through rain, hail, darkness and thunderstorms more than 30 members of the 10th Air Support Operations Squadron marched more than 470 miles to remember a fallen airman.
A memorial ruck march began June 10 at 12:47 p.m. - the time of Senior Airman Bradley Smith's death - from his gravesite in Glen Carbon, Ill. Two airmen walked together for a 12-mile leg around the clock through three states for seven days. The march memorialized Smith, who died Jan. 3 while serving with the 10th ASOS in Afghanistan.
"It was something back when this first happened that the guys in the squadron wanted to do," said Air Force Lt. Col. Roy Fatur, commander, 10th ASOS. "It kind of goes along with our training and they wanted to do something physical to remember, to honor him and that was a perfect fit. When you look at the combination, you want something to be difficult and you want to add significance to it that was perfect when you looked at it on the map. It's a long distance and it just fit to do it from there to here."
Air Force Staff Sgt. Nathan Phillips, Tactical Air Control Party, 10th ASOS, organized the ruck in honor of his fellow airman.
"(It was) Just something that he definitely would have liked to have done," Phillips said. "He's the kind of guy that it would be his idea to ruck from his home town out to here for no apparent reason at the time. When we thought about it we thought what better way than to go from his gravesite to here. He was an athletic, work-out, go-hard-all-the-time kind of guy so it felt fitting."
Arriving at the Ogden Gate at 6 a.m. June 17 the more than 30 airmen were joined by Smith's wife, Tiffany, pushing their 8-month old daughter, Chloe, in a stroller; his father, Gary; as his mother, Paula, followed behind in a car for the final five miles to the ASOS headquarters at Fort Riley.
"Brad was all about the physical and this is something that's a great testament," Paula said. "They decided amongst themselves to do it; nobody asked them to do it."
Throughout the entire ruck, the group carried Smith's uniform and a memorial stone that was placed in Victory Park during the Victory Park ceremony June 17, which honored servicemembers from Fort Riley who had died in the last year.
Upon his high school graduation Smith attended college for a short time and was a department manager for Lowe's before deciding to follow in his brother's military footsteps and joining the Air Force in 2006.
Smith first went to the para-rescue program before being injured and having to pick a different field. He joined the TACP field and also graduated from airborne and pathfinder school.
"He was going to be in the action no matter what," Paula said.
Smith's parents describe him as an all-American boy who loved life and loved his Family.
"He played football, played baseball," Paula said. "Just a good friend to a lot of people; we've found that out all over the country, but we have no idea how many lives he touched. It's been a testament to him. He loved his wife and his baby that above all else. He called her every day from Afghanistan."
Smith also had a love for serving in the Air Force.
"He loved his job and he was willing to do whatever he had to do for his job," Paula said.
Fatur described Smith as a superior person, airman and husband as well as a role model.
"I think he was a role model for everybody," he said. "Everything he did was 100 percent. As we've went through these memorials and different people have done speeches and such; everybody has examples of him going above and beyond any requirement that there was of him regardless of what it was; whether it was training or working out, he was always doing more. Everybody points out his love of his Family."
"He's just a good friend," Phillips said. "Probably the nicest and best guy I'd ever met got a chance to meet. He was never mad, always got a smile on his face, hardest working guy I've ever met."
As their granddaughter grows the Smith's will tell her about her dad.
"We're going to tell her that he was full of life, that he loved her, he loved God and he wanted her to grow up with the love of God like he had," Paula said. "I think that (Brad and Chloe) would have been such an awesome team. He was so happy to have a little girl; he was there for her birth and was there for a month after she was born before he left. We're just going to tell her what an awesome dad she had."
During their visits to Fort Riley, the Smith Family has seen how many lives their son touched.
"We've lost our son but we've gained about 30 sons," Gary said.