A student from Air Command and Staff College prepares for one leg of the ACSC Warrior Relay from Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Ala., to MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla., March 8. They raced to the United States Special Operations Command to raise money in support for families of lost military members from special operations missions. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class William Blankenship)
ACSC students bike, run 465 miles in 48 hours

by Airman 1st Class William J. Blankenship
Air University Public Affairs

3/13/2013 - MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. -  -- A team of students, faculty and staff from Air Command and Staff College hit the ground running and riding last week to raise money for the children of fallen special operations forces.

During the evening of March 7, a team of 63 left Maxwell on a 465-mile, 48-hour run and bike relay to the finish line at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., home of U.S. Special Operations Command.

The ACSC "road warriors" were raising money to benefit the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, which provides college scholarships for surviving children, educational counseling for families and support to wounded special operations forces

The ACSC team was broken down into nine groupings, traveling in shifts to ensure a team was always on the road. Each shift varied from 3-mile runs to 20-mile bike and run combinations. Their two-day journey meant more than just a fitness benchmark.

"Hopefully, we can raise awareness and a good bit of money to help out families who had a loved one pass away," said Maj. Matthew Astroth, a student at ACSC.

After all the teams participated in an initial run from Maxwell to the starting line in downtown Montgomery, the other teams were shuttled to various starting points on the route, depending on their team's next leg for rest and recovery. With little time between each leg, team members had barely enough time to shower, wash their bike riding apparel and snatch two or three hours of rest before they amped up for another round.

The endurance ride and run took its toll both mentally and physically on the participants.

"It was definitely challenging physically," said Astroth. "During the night, when it was freezing cold and we were running or biking up these freakish hills, we had to keep in mind that this wasn't about us, it was about something bigger than ourselves."

With helmets buckled and biking shoes clamped into pedals, the teams pushed on through the nights and days, enduring multiple shifts with few hours separating the exhausting effort to reach MacDill.

"After doing multiple legs in one day with only a small cat nap here and there during the day, it became a real stress on the body," said Maj. Jose Vasquez, ACSC student. "It was definitely a team effort to keep each other motivated when it was 30 degrees and pitch dark through the night. My fingers and toes lost feeling through the night, but we all knew why we were out there doing this and it makes the pains we endured worthwhile."

On the second day, with the Florida coast within view and the sun rising above the horizon, the riders picked up their pace. Team members stretched their aching muscles and ate their last bite of food on their final leg to the finish line at MacDill's Special Operations Memorial.

Physical and mental anguish were soon forgotten, and motivation kicked in.

"Each leg got a little harder as we went along, but we wanted to raise money for those people who got left behind," said Maj. Deirdre Gurry, ACSC student. "Most of the people on the team picked the name of a wounded warrior to ride or run for or the name of someone they know who has benefitted from this program, so the cause strikes close to the heart of many of us."

At the finish line, tears mixed with joy as exhaustion blended with thoughts of why the race was run.

"Our goal was to raise awareness for the foundation and raise as much money as we can," said Astroth. "I would say that the first attempt at this event went well, and my hope is that a child can benefit from what we did the last 48 hours, and hopefully, lives will be impacted in a positive way."

At the end of the relay, the ACSC team presented their donation of $20,000 to the Special Operations Warrior Foundation.

(Editor's note: The author of this article traveled with the relay team to cover this story.)