STRATTON ANGB, NY -- Twenty-five Airmen from the 109th Airlift Wing participated in the annual Air Force-wide Port Dawg Memorial Run on May 2nd, 2021 at Stratton Air National Guard Base.
Port Dawg is what the air transportation specialists who man the Air Force’s aerial port squadrons call themselves.
These Airmen build and inspect the cargo packages, determine how the cargo is stored in the plane, load and unload the cargo, and ensure all safety and security precautions are implemented, said Chief Master Sgt. Mark Mann the air transportation superintendent for the 109th Airlift Wing.
The annual Port Dawg run is completed anytime during May to honor air transportation specialists in the Active Air Force Air Guard and Air Force Reserve who have died in the previous year due to combat, wrongdoing or suicide.
The run started in 2013 at Kadena Air Force Base, Japan to honor an air transportation specialist who was a victim of homicide.
It quickly spread throughout the career field to call attention to the hazards and stress experienced by the port dawgs. The run not only serves as a memorial, but also a reminder to Airmen in the career field to support and care for each other, explained Staff Sgt. Eric laClair, air transportation specialist.
“The air transportation career field whether its active, Guard or Reserve is a smaller career field, we all know each other, deploy together, help each other out and work extremely well together. I believe it’s important to support each other, and remember and pay tribute to those that served so honorably,” Mann said.
Airmen complete a short run in formation, then have an informal ceremony where they say each Airman’s name while adding a device to a chain. The run this year honored twelve Airmen who passed away in 2020.
“This was our first year as a squadron participating in the run –we have always remembered those lost, either at our stand-up or a moment of silence but this year we were able to do the whole thing, and everyone knew how important it was” said Mann.
For LaClair, who recently transferred to the 109th from the Air Force Reserves, said the run had extra meaning for him this year.
LaClair said he knew two of the Airmen being honored. One member was killed in a vehicle accident while on deployment with him and the other took his own life.
“Out of the 12 people we honored, zero of those deaths were from natural causes. So it goes to show the peril that our job brings, working with heavy machinery and hazardous materials, we are not on the front lines but it is a dangerous job nonetheless, “ LaClair said.
According to LaClair, the Air Transportation career field is a critical part of moving cargo around the world.
“It is important to recognize we need to be cognizant and careful and also to say the names of the people we have worked with and know that we are all here for each other as a community” said LaClair.
“We are one piece of a giant puzzle that makes this unit such a successful unit – I would say our career field in general is ‘on the road’ more, but that is necessary,” Mann said.
“We have over 20 of our Airmen deployed currently, wherever cargo planes go - air transport specialists are right there with them,” Mann added.
The 109th Airlift Wing flies the LC-130 "Ski Bird" version of the C-130 transport which is configured to land on ice and snow. The wing's airmen routinely carry people and supplies for American scientific research being conducted in Antarctica and on the Greenland ice cap.