SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Germany --
As firefighters began putting on their dense flame-retardant gear, a group of explosive ordnance disposal Airmen arrived next to them, slipping their arms through the thick sleeves on their protective suits.
Their appearance upon completion looked not unlike a wrapped-up child who couldn't move his arms before braving a harsh snow on the walk to the school bus.
But it's not winter--it's June, and the more than 50 pounds of extra clothing only exacerbates the wearer's internal temperature, let alone her or his movement.
Despite all this, these Airmen weren't about to put out a fire or respond to a bomb threat - they were doing it all to honor a fallen brother.
Nearly 500 Airmen, family members and dogs participated in the Jog for Joe Memorial 5K outside the Skelton Memorial Fitness Center June 20.
The run memorialized U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Joseph Hamski, formerly assigned to the 52nd Civil Engineer Squadron EOD flight, who was killed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom May 26, 2011.
According to the 5K's flier, Hamski died from wounds after an improvised explosive device detonated near his station. His EOD team worked to render the area safe and protect fellow service members and civilians.
"Joe was one of 20 Air Force EOD technicians who lost their lives deployed downrange keeping others safe," said U.S. Air Force Capt. Taylor Valentine, EOD flight commander and Columbus, Miss., native. "We do this to remember the sacrifice he and his colleagues have made for our country. It's a day to reflect on why we do what we do and honor those who have gone before us."
Runners took off from the base track by the Skelton Memorial Fitness Center through the woods along the side of a base housing division before moving around the outskirts of the flightline and back.
While the distance measured a little more than five kilometers, the people sporting the heavy suits and rucksacks may have said they felt even more of that distance.
"Every step adds another ounce to the weight of everything," said U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Bryan Souder, a 52nd CES firefighter and Bellevue, Neb., native. "But it's so worth it."
Sabers cheered on and high-fived race participants upon their return back to the base track - signifying not only the end of the run, but, as U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. David Baker, EOD programs and operations section chief and Glyndon, Md., native said, they had done something special as a base for one of their own.
"It was really wonderful to see this much support," Baker said. "It's been three years since Joe was killed, and our base has had high turnover since then. Many people here didn't know him or weren't stationed here when he died, but they still turned out. It speaks volumes about what kind of community we are as Sabers."
Baker also served as Hamski's supervisor and was serving in a separate location in Afghanistan when he died--an announcement that occurred toward the end of their tour.
Still, Baker smiled as he recalled his Hamski's humor: like referencing an online encyclopedia article to win a debate and later admitting he had edited it earlier to solidify his argument.
"He was a great guy," he said. "Real dry wit, sharp as a whip."
When asked what Hamski would have thought about seeing a run like this, Baker emphasized his former Airman's modesty and willingness to honor a fellow EOD warrior.
"He probably would wonder what all the hoopla was about," he said. "He was a pretty humble guy and didn't like being in the spotlight. But I think if it was an event to memorialize fallen comrades, he'd be a part of it. He'd very much be into the community and memorial aspect of it all."
For more photos of the Jog for Joe Memorial 5K, visit the Spangdahlem Flickr page