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Remembering POW-MIA with 24-hour Vigil Run/Walk

An image of Tinker senior leaders participating in the POW-MIA vigil.

Chap. (Lt. Col.) John Key; Col. Laurie Dickson, commander of the 513 Air Control Group; Kevin Stamey, executive director of the Air Force Sustainment Center, Chief Master Sgt. Melissa Erb, command Chief of the 72nd Air Base Wing; and Col. Paul Filcek, 72nd Air Base Wing commander walked the first lap of the POW/MIA 24-hr. Vigil Sept. 12. With the exception of the time lost from weather delays, members of Team Tinker filled the entire 24 hours to walk in memoriam of all POW/MIA service members. The vigil was originally held in conjunction with the 9/11 Memorial Run, which has now been postponed until Sept. 27 at 6:15 a.m. (U.S. Air Force photo/Kelly White)

As the Oklahoma sun rose over Tinker Air Force Base on Sept. 12, members of the community gathered at the track for the opening ceremony of the first 24-hour POW-MIA Vigil Run/Walk.

This year’s 24-hour walk was a new addition, prefacing annual 9/11 POW-MIA Memorial 5K/2K Run/Ruck/Walk, which has been rescheduled for Sept. 27 due to inclement weather.

During the Vigil, volunteers took 20-minute shifts throughout the 24 hours to read the names of all those listed as POW-MIA, as well as to carry the POW-MIA flag around the track. 

72nd Air Base Wing Commander Col. Paul Filcek reminded attendees of an important quote during his opening remarks.

“Almost everybody who has ever existed dies twice, they die the moment that their heart stops and then they die the last time somebody mentions their name,” Filcek said. “Nobody whose name is remembered is ever dead so what you’re doing today over the next 24 hours is as great a service as you could ever give. It costs so little and it means so much to be engaged.”

Three members of the 552nd Air Control Network Squadron took that engagement a step further and planned to walk for the entire 24 hours of the vigil.

“All three of us had either known somebody or personally lost somebody in the line of duty,” Airman First Class with the 552nd ACNS Wesley Altman said. “I think the intention here is to change more of the perspective, not just for the Air Force, but for the military as a culture. Since it’s been 18 years, you’re starting to get a lot of guys joining the Air Force who were so young when it happened that they didn’t grow up knowing anybody personally affected by it that it got to the point of desensitization.”

Prepared with small amounts of gear and a cooler filled with ice and water, Senior Airman Michael Klinker from Tinker AFB and Hilton Nguyen, a Lockheed Martin contractor from Carswell AFB decided to join Altman on the 24-hour trek.

“I’ve had a couple of family members who have served and a couple of them have gotten the Purple Heart. One of them was on D-Day actually and took seven shots to his stomach,” Klinker said. “If he can take shots to the belly, I can try to walk for 24 hours.”

The group was able to walk the track for 10 hours before inclement weather and physical complications brought them to a halt. However, despite stopping short of the 24-hour mark, through their participation in the vigil the group was able to independently receive 33 donation pledges for the Wounded Warrior Project.

“We don’t view it as a failure, we view it as an experience,” Altman said.