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Port Dawgs never forget: 721 APS 8th Annual Memorial Run

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Taylor Slater
  • 86th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

On a Sunday where even the steady spring rain was willing to pause for a few moments, the names of 12 fallen teammates were read aloud in front of the Ramstein Passenger Terminal next to a crowd of at least 80 people. These names will continue to be read around the world as members of the Air Force transportation community come together to make sure those names are never forgotten.

“We lose people to accidents,” said Master Sgt. Aaron Terrazas, 721st Aerial Port Squadron fleet services superintendent. “We lose people to suicide and natural causes. It’s a way for all of us to reflect on them.”

The 721st APS held their 8th annual Port Dawg Memorial Run May 16 in remembrance of 12 fallen Airmen and civilians in the transportation community in 2020.

The annual run originated in 2011 with the death of Tech. Sgt. Curtis Eccleston, an Airman from the 733rd Air Mobility Squadron from Kadena Air Base, Japan. In 2013, members of the Aerial Port community in Kadena Air Base held a memorial run in his honor, a move that became an annual event held by transportation communities worldwide.

“They said, ‘Hey, you know we have this problem where we’re losing port dawgs, and we want a way to remember them,’” Terrazas said. “So, in 2013 they had their first run and Tech. Sgt. Eccleston’s family still participates in the one that’s at (Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey). It means a lot to them.”

In recent years the run has operated differently compared to runs in the past. 2020’s run was planned to coincide with National Defense Transportation Week, but was canceled and changed into a virtual run due to COVID-19 guidance. In 2021, run participants will be separated into physically-distanced groups per COVID-19 physical training regulations and run along a 2.1 mile-long route around the base.

“Normally we run in a big formation all in one day,” Terrazas said. “To give everybody a chance to participate we’re going to open the course throughout the week.”

During the ceremony, the reading of names helps bring a sense of closure to the friends and family of the departed members, Terrazas said.

“After doing this for a while you start to recognize names of people who ended up on the list,” Terrazas said. “So, we hear that name and it’s like, ‘Okay it’s spoken, we’ve acknowledged you, (and) we’re gonna remember you.’”

Mr. Phillip Rillon, a member of the 60th APS at Travis Air Force Base, California, is the first civilian to be a part of the memorial run’s names of remembrance, and Chief Master Sgt. Edward Rodriguez III, 721st APS chief enlisted manager, personally knew him and spoke of him during the ceremony.

“He was a great father, husband, teacher, mentor, leader and one hell of a port dawg,” Rodriguez said. “And he was my friend.”

Rodriguez said this is something that’s helped unite the transportation community every year and shows how close the community is.

“It brings us all together and shows that no matter who you are, where you were assigned or what squadron you were with, as a career field we’ll come together no matter what,” Rodriguez said. “This is just a testament of having our fallen memorialized every year by every aerial transporter in the military.”

Terrazas agrees.

“We have a lot of pride because we know we impact the fight anywhere we are,” Terrazas said. We’ll bring your mail in, we’ll bring your household goods, we’ll bring in rations depending on where you’re at. We do a lot and this is just one of those ways we like to show that pride and remember those we lost.”

Prospective run participants are welcome to do a self-paced run from May 16 to 21. While participants from the transportation career field are specifically encouraged, members from other units or civilians are welcome to participate, and will be named honorary “Port Dawgs” for the event. The run begins at the Passenger Terminal and runs along Mitchell Avenue, the Ramstein Shoppette, and circles back around to the terminal. Contact MSgt. Terrazas at DSN 314-479-4434 for more information.