Air Force ROTC runs in memory of POW/MIA veterans


Photo by Noah Nielsen

Symmone Gauer, Lifestyles Editor (She/her)

The South Dakota State University Air Force ROTC program members spent last Saturday running in memory of those military members who were either prisoners of war or declared missing in action. 

The POW/MIA Memorial Run is an annual relay event where the cadets run from the veteran’s memorial in Sioux Falls to the one here in Brookings for a stretch of about 60 miles. Two cadets ran together for five or six miles, one person carrying the American flag and the other carrying the POW flag. Five cars played “leapfrog,” in a sense, as they picked up runners along the way. 

“It was a good bonding experience,” Nate Lawrence, the event planner for Detachment 780 of the Arnold Air Society, said. The Arnold Air Society is a professional honor society within the Air Force ROTC program, and Lawrence’s squadron—also called the Bernie V. Guthrie Squadron—planned and hosted the event this year. 

Total there were about 25 cadets from the program, and the run lasted from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. 

“During the run, you definitely get fatigued after the first few miles,” Joe Bushlack, a third-year cadet, said. “Mentally, there was no place I’d rather be… It’s the people you run with and the cause that makes it so great.”

Third-year Cadet Jaden Petersen mentioned that even when it was getting more difficult, people were still encouraging each other. 

“When someone would pass the flags, there would be hooting and hollering,” Petersen said, but then people would return to being solemn and respectful in remembrance of their purpose: to honor veterans.

“We do a lot of service events…but this is an event about symbolism, not just the action,” Petersen said.

Once the cadets reached Brookings, two members of Rolling Thunder—a veteran’s group that advocates for POWs and MIAs—rode their motorcycles behind a police car and escorted the runners up Main Avenue and to the memorial.

“Getting to the end was really fulfilling,” Petersen said. 

After everyone arrived at the Brookings memorial, there was a moment of silence before Cadet Samantha Gortmaker led the group in a short prayer.

“The moments of meditation at the conclusion of the run were very special,” Gortmaker said. “It felt appropriate and natural to offer a prayer of thanksgiving and blessing for the veterans and families we honor. You feel the true weight of their sacrifices in that space, all of us together.”

That was a feeling shared across the board. 

“I know that I take my freedoms for granted every day,” Bushlack said. “This day really drives home how much was sacrificed for that. Even if you just read what our POWs went through, or how many people have gone MIA in the last 50 years, it’s easy to see just how much was sacrificed for us.” 

The POW/MIA Memorial Run is a yearly event for the program, but they were unable to do it last fall because of COVID. Thankfully they were able to continue the tradition this year.

“It was a great event and overall success,” Lawrence said.  “We’re very happy to have had Rolling Thunder be a part of it.” He also thanked the Brookings Police Department for also being part of the escort, and for everyone in the community who gave their support.

“It’s a really good time to be somber and to remember and reflect on the military members who came before.”