U.S. Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Ruby Tilley, 8th Fighter Wing command post command and control operations superintendent, reaches mile 26 for the 30th annual Bataan Memorial Death March in White Sands Missile Range, N.M., March 17, 2019. Tilley completed the march while wearing a 35 pound rucksack. (courtesy photo)
U.S. Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Ruby Tilley, 8th Fighter Wing command post command and control operations superintendent, reaches mile 26 for the 30th annual Bataan Memorial Death March in White Sands Missile Range, N.M., March 17, 2019. Tilley completed the march while wearing a 35 pound rucksack. (courtesy photo)

Kunsan Airman marches in Bataan Memorial Death March

by Staff Sgt. Joshua Edwards
8th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

KUNSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea -- More than 8,500 people headed to White Sands Missile Range, N.M., for the 30th annual Bataan Memorial Death March, March 17, 2019, with one of the 8th Fighter Wing’s very own making the trek.

Senior Master Sgt. Ruby Tilley, 8th FW command post command and control operations superintendent, participated in the military heavy category which involved wearing her uniform and carrying a 35-pound rucksack.

“I wanted to go all out,” said Tilley. “To be able to have the 8th Fighter Wing patches out there and carry that full pack with all the other service members as well, I just had to do it that way. The hardest way.”

The Army hosts this 26.2-mile march through the desert to honor World War II American and Filipino soldiers who were forced to march 65 miles through a jungle, while enduring torture by the Imperial Japanese Army. While making the march, the soldier carried heavy loads and thousands perished along the way.

"As you walk through the desert terrain here, and you find yourself struggling today to get to the next water point or to overcome the pain in your body, remember what these great American and Philippine allies endured, knowing that when they reached the end of that march there would be more pain, suffering and possibly death,” said Col. Chris Ward, White Sands Missile Range Garrison Commander, during the opening ceremony. “Tap into their courage to keep marching and to finish.”
Tilley recounted just what it took for her to get from the start the finish.

Mile 6: “The first few miles went really well. I stopped to take care of my feet. I changed my socks, hydrated, snacked and got back out on the trail again. Some of the guys stationed here had already done it, and the number one thing they told me was, ‘no matter what take care of my feet.’”

Mile 8: “This is where I started to blister. My knees started hurting, and I was like, don’t think about it, don’t focus on it, just keep pushing. I knew the pain I was feeling came along with what i was doing. It wasn’t going to kill me. It wasn’t going to be permanent. It was just something I had to push past.”

Mile 18: “I hit a wall. I just stopped and thought, I can do this. I was in absolute pain. I was in so much pain that I didn’t think I could go much further without stopping more. It would be like a hard rough mile before wanting to stop and check my feet or stop and do something else.”

Mile 20: “I started texting family and friends that I didn’t know if I could do this. I have 6.2 miles left, and I’m in so much pain. I was just feeling sorry for myself. A good friend of mine from Kunsan knew I was out there doing this, and they text me letting me know, ‘You can do it. Just do one step at a time.’”

Mile 23: “I met this Airman and she had broken down. She said that she hadn’t done this before, and she felt like she wasn’t getting anywhere. She was in tears. Medical was approaching, and I thought they were going to call it. It made me lose focus on myself and realize there is someone here who needs help. She is struggling and she wants to finish, but she is mentally exhausted and so am I. We sat there for five minutes and cried for a little bit, then we got up and thought we can do this, we can finish this.”

Mile 24: “She stopped and stayed there with medical and got her feet checked out. I had to just keep pushing. I just thought I had a few miles left. It wasn’t easy but everyone on those last few miles were encouraging each other. It sounds like we are running, but we were literally dragging our feet walking the slowest pace you could imagine. The last file miles probably took a solid hour and half to finish.”

Finish: “I kept thinking about the purpose of the march. Here I was with this pack and water stations and snacks, but thousands of men were on this march with nothing. They carried each other through that entire ordeal. I thought, just push through this in honor of them. It didn’t matter what happened, I was going to finish that march.”

After she finished, Tilley ran into the Airman she had helped earlier. With the help of their fellow Airman, both Tilley and the individual she aided were able to achieve their goals of completing the march.

“This event took so much from me,” said Tilley. “It was extremely emotional to me. It was an honor and it changed my life.”

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