Tinker Airmen remember POW/MIAs through exercise, sweat

Airmen begin their 5K run as the sun rises on the second annual Prisoner of War/Missing In Action Memorial Run Sept. 28.  About 1,500 Airmen across Tinker participated in the event, which began at the POW/MIA memorial in the Tinker Air Park, wound through the base and ended on the 72nd Air Base Wing headquarters lawn.  (Photo by Staff Sgt. Stacy Fowler)

Airmen begin their 5K run as the sun rises on the second annual Prisoner of War/Missing In Action Memorial Run Sept. 28. About 1,500 Airmen across Tinker participated in the event, which began at the POW/MIA memorial in the Tinker Air Park, wound through the base and ended on the 72nd Air Base Wing headquarters lawn. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Stacy Fowler)

Airmen from units across Tinker go into the final leg of the second annual 5K Prisoner of War/Missing In Action Memorial Run Sept. 28.  About 1,500 Airmen across Tinker participated in the event, which began at the POW/MIA memorial in the Tinker Air Park, wound through the base and ended on the 72nd Air Base Wing headquarters lawn.  (Photo by Staff Sgt. Stacy Fowler)

Airmen from units across Tinker go into the final leg of the second annual 5K Prisoner of War/Missing In Action Memorial Run Sept. 28. About 1,500 Airmen across Tinker participated in the event, which began at the POW/MIA memorial in the Tinker Air Park, wound through the base and ended on the 72nd Air Base Wing headquarters lawn. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Stacy Fowler)

Col. (retired) Leroy Stutz (at podium), an Air Force Vietnam veteran and prisoner of war, talks to the runners at the finale of the Second Annual Prisoner of War/Missing In Action Memorial Run Sept. 28.  About 1,500 Airmen across Tinker participated in the event, which began at the POW/MIA memorial in the Tinker Air Park, wound through the base and ended on the 72nd Air Base Wing headquarters lawn.  (Photo by Staff Sgt. Stacy Fowler)

Col. (retired) Leroy Stutz (at podium), an Air Force Vietnam veteran and prisoner of war, talks to the runners at the finale of the Second Annual Prisoner of War/Missing In Action Memorial Run Sept. 28. About 1,500 Airmen across Tinker participated in the event, which began at the POW/MIA memorial in the Tinker Air Park, wound through the base and ended on the 72nd Air Base Wing headquarters lawn. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Stacy Fowler)

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- The jodi calls float through the cool morning air as a long, thin line of Airmen in black T-shirts jog in formation around Tinker as the sun slowly rises in the east. 

Running two-by-two, Airmen from units across Tinker used sweat and exercise to honor those who were held as prisoners of war and/or missing in action during Tinker's second annual POW/MIA Run Sept. 28. 

The runners, estimated to be about 1,500 strong, met at dawn at the POW/MIA memorial in the Tinker Air Park to prepare for a 5K jaunt around base, escorted by the Patriot Guard Riders. While Airmen stretched and warmed their muscles, they also received instruction from the run coordinators - as well as the reasons behind some of the rules. 

"There is a lot of meaning built into this event," said Maj. Robert Ross, 552nd Training Squadron and overall coordinator of the run. 

"We begin at our base memorial to remember those who have not yet returned. 

"We wear black to show solidarity and remembrance of their unique sacrifices. 

"We run two-by-two to demonstrate the support for each other. 

"We are in formation to demonstrate discipline and professionalism. 

"We honor our nation's flag at the beginning and end [of the run] because it's the flag for which we fight. 

"We carry guidons, flags and sing out jodi calls because we are the world's greatest and most powerful nation - and we are loud and proud of it, our organizations and each other." 

The goal for the POW/MIA run coordinators this year was to grow the run so that it would represent not just one organization, but rather every American who wanted to participate.
"What began as a squadron-sponsored event is growing into a base-wide event," Major Ross said. "The idea to do so became obvious to my planning committee based on the overwhelming interest shown throughout our efforts to organize it. It is also in recognition of the fact that our POWs/MIAs belong to no one organization, but to all AMERICANS!" 

The guest speaker for the run was Col. (retired) Leroy Stutz, an Air Force Vietnam veteran and POW. On Dec. 2, 1966, then 1st Lt. Stutz was shot down during his 65th mission over North Vietnam. He bailed out, was captured and imprisoned at the Hoa Lo detention facility ("Hanoi Hilton") for six years. He was returned to U.S. custody in March 1973 as one of almost 600 Americans who were freed at the time. 

"I know that many of you view this run as just exercise, but when I was a POW, exercise was very important to us," Mr. Stutz said. "We knew as POWs that we had to keep our bodies as fit as possible. I remember one day that I got done with my exercises, then talked with the person in the next cell - we had to use tapping because we weren't allowed to speak to each other. I told him that I was able to do two push-ups, instead of just one. Usually one push-up exhausted me [because of the poor food and poor conditions during the years of imprisonment], but I was able to do two that day. That was a great day for me, because I knew that I was getting stronger [despite] where we were kept." 

Mr. Stutz continued to tell the assembled Airmen to stay strong and vigilant, because while many in the military do not want to think about the possibility of hardship or pain, it is still a potential risk when deployed - or at home. This sentiment was shared by many at the event. 

"We are in a unique life-and-death profession, and we live in a time when our civilians are not merely the innocent victims of collateral damage, they are targets themselves," Major Ross said. "It's our faith in God, our nation and each other that gets us through the tough times - this is a celebration of that faith. 

"We are also celebrating the fact that you can knock an American down, you can humiliate him or her, you can hurt us in the worst possible way, but we will keep getting back up again - tougher and more determined than ever."