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Keesler combat controllers honor fallen friends
Sergeant Spurlin, left, from Monterey, Calif., and Sergeant Malson, from Denver, train on the Biloxi beach for an October ruck that will honor fallen comrades. Sergeant Spurlin has been in the Air Force for nine years, Sergeant Malson for eight. Keesler is home to the Air Force’s combat control schoolhouse. (U.S. Air Force photo by Kemberly Groue)
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Keesler combat controllers honor fallen friends

Posted 9/23/2009   Updated 9/23/2009 Email story   Print story


by Angela Cutrer
81st Training Wing Public Affairs

9/23/2009 - KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. -- It's no secret that it takes a special kind of man to be a combat controller. Just ask Staff. Sgts. Ashley Spurlin and Adam Malson, combat control instructors in the 334th Training Squadron. 

Both are used to hard work. In fact, they're used to intensive, rigorous, punishing, grueling work. After all, they are combat controllers -- hard work and toughness go hand in hand. 

But that doesn't mean these two don't have hearts.   Mention their lost buddies across the pond and these hardened, tough, sturdy men tighten their chins, lower their eyes and kick Biloxi sand around with their boots as they contemplate.  Nothing -- nothing -- has ever been this tough. 

"We were all best friends," Sergeant Malson said of the Airmen lost from the 23rd Special Tactics Squadron, Hurlburt Field, Fla.  "And now we want to do (something) for the families left behind. We want to support them and honor them." 

Sergeant Spurlin and Sergeant Malson now have a chance to show just how special their fallen comrades were to them. 

On Oct. 6, two men loaded down with heavy 50-pound rucks containing memorial batons engraved with the names of 12 fallen teammates will take the first steps on a journey by foot that will span hundreds of miles of coastline. The trek will stretch from San Antonio to Hurlburt Field, and its main goal will be to honor fallen heroes in the war against terrorism. 

This 824-mile crossing begins where it all starts: the combat control selection course at Lackland Air Force Base's Medina Annex in San Antonio, where all special tactics team members embark on their careers. At 5 a.m., the first duo will take initial steps toward Ft. Walton Beach, and Sergeant Spurlin and Sergeant Malson will be two of the 12 involved in the grueling march. 

Both men speak specifically of one buddy, Staff Sgt. Timothy Davis, 28, an Air Force combat controller from Aberdeen, Wash., who was assigned to the 23rd STS. He died Feb. 20 in Oruzgan, Afghanistan, of wounds sustained when his vehicle encountered an improvised explosive device. For his bravery, Sergeant Davis was awarded two Purple Hearts and two Bronze Stars with Valor. 

Sergeant Malson said that this relay is in honor of (Sergeant Davis) and all Special Tactics teammates who lost their lives in the line of duty. Tech. Sgt. Will Jefferson, a combat Controller, and Tech. Sgt. Scott Duffman, pararescue, will also be among those honored. 

The Air Force Special Operations Command's team members perform one of four important jobs: combat control, pararescue, special operations weather or tactical air control party. The first two have lost men on the field.  

Combat controllers are battlefield Airmen assigned to special tactics squadrons. They are trained special operations forces and certified Federal Aviation Administration air traffic controllers. Their mission is to deploy undetected into combat and hostile environments to establish assault zones or airfields, while simultaneously conducting air traffic control, fire support, command and control, direct action, counter-terrorism, foreign internal defense, humanitarian assistance and special reconnaissance in the joint arena.  

Pararescuemen, also known as PJs, are the only Department of Defense specialty specifically trained and equipped to conduct conventional or unconventional rescue operations. 

These battlefield Airmen are considered the ideal force for personnel recovery and combat search and rescue.   A PJ's primary function is as a personnel recovery specialist, with emergency medical capabilities in humanitarian and combat environments. PJs deploy in any available manner, to include air-land-sea tactics, into restricted environments to authenticate, extract, treat, stabilize and evacuate injured personnel, while acting in an enemy-evading, recovery role.  

 The mission will take eight to nine days and ends at Hurlburt Field in Fort Walton Beach, where the group will meet teammates, family and friends in time for the annual Combat Control Association reunion Oct. 17. At that time, Sergeant Davis' name, along with the others, will be added to the Combat Control Memorial at the Hurlburt Field Air Park. While this walk is to honor those who have fallen, it is also meaningful because team members want to show that fallen special operations team members are never forgotten. The entire team hopes to raise awareness and funds for the Air Force Special Operations Warrior Fund. Sergeant Davis was survived by his son, TJ, 1½; Sergeant Jefferson left behind daughters Tyler, 9, and Natalie, 1; and Sergeant Duffman's daughter Sophia is 2½. Through efforts to build the SOWF, these children are guaranteed to receive a college education. 

Five of the 23rd STS controllers killed were personal friends of Sergeants Malson and Spurlin. 

"A lot of the combat controller team (members) are still deployed and can't do this," said Sergeant Malson, "but we're in a pretty good spot to support (the cause) this way. It's a real honor." 

Each two-man team will walk in 150-mile legs, 15 miles every 20 hours along the way. 

"We're doing this for the combat controllers and pararescuers -- those two career fields -- because we want to remember their sacrifice," Sergeant Spurlin said. 

"And we're doing it for their families. No matter how bad it hurts us physically, it's still not as bad as for those guys deployed and what those who were killed went through."

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