stacking up at joint base andrews to remember pow mia

Years of dreams and many nights of tears, fading hope, and an aching heart that never heals. It’s what the families, friends, and brothers and sisters in arms of MIA/POW Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines feel when they are left alone to create their own stories. ”“ Col. Shannon Bannister, USAF

In July, we were contacted by Master Sgt. Carrie Frederickson, 11th Civil Engineer Squadron Andrews Fire and Emergency Services assistant chief of operations at Joint Base Andrews, to attend a POW/MIA Vigil. They heard about us from a soldier who is deployed overseas whose unit was a recipient of a Supply Crate that we sent to them earlier this year.

Master Sgt. Frederickson and Tech Sgt. Douglas Johnson, along with members of the Air Force Sergeants Association Local Chapter 102, hosted this event consisting of individuals sharing their personal stories, running a lap around the base perimeter and 24-hour memorial run from Sept. 15th to 16th.

The Stack Volunteers who attended, were Stephanie Owens, Eastern Regional Stack Director and Stack Leader for Hazlet, NJ, Hazlet, NJ Stack members William Owens; Roberto Nieves, volunteer content writer for Stack-Up and member of the Hazlet Stack; Queens, NY Stack Co-leaders Marc, Ethan and Blair Whinston; and Shawn Goodwin Stack Leader from the Delmarva Stack and also a veteran, who lent support with his camera and photographed the event.

“As we run today in remembrance of those who are still missing, please keep their families and friends in your thoughts and hearts. Let them never be forgotten. Be safe, and thank you for what you do each day to serve our great nation.” - Col. Shannon Bannister, USAF
“As we run today in remembrance of those who are still missing, please keep their families and friends in your thoughts and hearts. Let them never be forgotten. Be safe, and thank you for what you do each day to serve our great nation.” – Col. Shannon Bannister, USAF

Units from all around the base gathered to hear the story of Colonel Bannister’s father who went MIA during the Vietnam War, which marked the beginning of the event. It was 35 years before she was able to put her father’s story to rest and bring him home. With the memory of the entire POW/MIA community on their minds, a combination of airmen, sailors, soldiers, and civilians took off beginning the run. Carrying the POW/MIA flag, leadership from seven different wings on base began the running portion of the event by traveling the approximately nine-mile base perimeter. At the conclusion of that run, the flag was handed off to the next group to carry it around a designated track where the flag would continue to be handed off to groups every 30 minutes to run or walk with the flag for the next 24 hours.

first-group-runners

Stack-Up provided support throughout the event, talking with active duty airmen and veterans and cheering the runners on. We appreciated hearing their stories of being deployed. Of note was a special veteran, Michael Carrasquillo, a retired Airborne Ranger. Michael served with the 173rd Airborne Division, based out of Italy. He is an Iraq and Afghanistan Veteran, who served on a number of combat missions. In 2005, Michael and his unit was involved in a heavy firefight in an area notorious for extremely heavy fighting. On this particular mission, Michael’s unit was ambushed and in retrieving an injured soldier, Michael was shot five times, sustaining life threatening injuries. In that instant, a grenade had detonated near him, sparing him but also warping his primary weapon and severing his finger. Michael recounted the entire story, finding a sense of humor in the events. He recalled telling the soldiers evacuating him, ”Those rocks on the mountains will kill me before I even get to the chopper. Even when boarding the chopper, I couldn’t move, and fell face first onto the chopper bottom! What a day I had!” What a day indeed.

Michael shared the story of his recovery with us, the challenges with transitioning back to civilian life and the raw images of the surgeries it took to save him that he had saved on his cell phone. “I went through five surgeries, died twice, and was in Walter Reed for two years.” he said.

Also accompanying Michael was another guest Ojai, Michael’s service dog, a beautiful black Labrador Retriever. Michael’s dog was provided to him by Canine Companions for Independence. Ojai has been trained to be a service dog since he was just a puppy. Michael and Ojai were carefully matched and Ojai helps him cope with post military life.

Green Knights leaving the base to escort the POW/MIA Flag to the Pentagon.
Green Knights leaving the base to escort the POW/MIA Flag to the Pentagon.

As the event was nearing its completion, the Green Knights Military Motorcycle Clubâ„¢. would escort the POW/MIA flag to the US Air Force Memorial, at the Pentagon for a ceremony there. A Captain from the 1st Air Mobility Unit brought over a 1933 Willy’s jeep from WWII to escort the flag and the motorcycle group.

“POW/MIA's teach us valuable lessons about strength, courage and honor,” said Lacy Rourke, National League of POW/MIA Families volunteer. At its core, the issue of recognizing our missing men is a human one. It's not about numbers or matrices or checked boxes, it is about knowing a story that has been left unwritten. It is about each of you standing here today being able to leave home and know that you will not be left behind."
“POW/MIA’s teach us valuable lessons about strength, courage and honor,” said Lacy Rourke, National League of POW/MIA Families volunteer. At its core, the issue of recognizing our missing men is a human one. It’s not about numbers or matrices or checked boxes, it is about knowing a story that has been left unwritten. It is about each of you standing here today being able to leave home and know that you will not be left behind.”

During the closing ceremony, we all took a moment to reflect on the meaning of the run. By Participating in this event, the memories of those long lost are not forgotten, so long as there are those that will continue their memory. It is a way to underscore that no service member shall be left behind, even long after the battle is over. AFSA Chapter 102 is looking forward to making this an annual event, taking place at the same time next year and Stack-Up will be there again to support them.

Air Force Master Sergeant Cairmont Barnes, along with Master Sergeant Carrie Frederickson tallied the number of laps at the end of the event. A total of 11,495 laps were completed, a total distance of 1,385 miles. That is the equivalent of running all the way to Miami, Florida.