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On January 7, 2014, US Air Force personnel Capt. Sean Ruane, Capt. Christopher Stover, Tech. Sgt. Dale Mathews and Staff Sgt. Afton Ponce lost their lives when their helicopter, call sign Jolly 22, crashed while performing a low-level training mission on the coast of Norfolk in England. Today, three members of the 48th Fighter Wing completed a 56 mile ruck to raise funds and awareness of the memory of their fallen comrades.
Barry Wall, Occupational Safety and former British Army infantryman, Tech. Sgt. Josh Rogers and Staff Sgt. Kacy Huddleston rucked eight miles per day, carrying 56lbs each over the 56 plus miles. The number '56' was particularly appropriate, as the four crew of the Jolly 22 were members of the 56th Rescue Squadron (RQS) - current members of the 56th also assembled their own ruck team to match Wall, Rogers and Huddleston’s fundraising and to raise awareness of the memory of the incident.
The rucking challenge took place over seven days, from January 1 to 7. Explaining the reasons behind the ruck, Barry Wall said "I wanted to do something for my community ... I was part of the safety office during the Jolly 22 tragedy, at the time Capt. Annie ‘Sunshine’ Driscoll was our HH-60 Flight Safety Officer and we were heavily involved in the initial stages of the mishap investigation. I saw how a base and community galvanized in support of the Squadron and it made, and still does, me proud to be a small part of this base."
Lt. Col Bryan Ballestero, 56th RQS assistant director of operations, said that the Squadron is "humbled and inspired by the effort of our companions at the 48 FW [Fighter Wing]. The loss of Jolly 22 is a weight we all carry with us. The funds raised by Barry Wall, Tech. Sgt. Rogers and Staff Sgt. Huddleston will help lift some of the weight for those families affected."
Since 2018, the 56th RQS relocated to Aviano Air Base in Italy, but the efforts by the three members of the 48th Fighter Wing has been an important way to remember those four US personnel who tragically lost their lives. Lt. Col Leslie Semrau, 56th RQS commander, explained that "As a family, we remember. We have deep respect for service and sacrifice, for our sisters and brothers, for Jolly 22. As a community, we deeply appreciate the commemoration of Jolly 22".
Congratulations to the three individuals who participated in this Rucking challenge, in what is an important reminder as the UK looks ahead to the 75th anniversary of VE Day and many US personnel who lost their lives while on UK soil, that it's equally important to remember those who lost their lives in more recent times in service of their nation.