Airman keeps Wingmen’s memory running in AF Marathon

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Sarah Williams
  • 17th Training Wing Public Affairs

The Air Force Marathon is an annual opportunity for Airmen to commemorate the Air Force birthday and celebrate together through friendly competition, but for Tech Sgt. Phillip Whitley, 315th Training Squadron geospatial-intelligence instructor, competing in the 26.2-mile run on September 17, symbolized much more than a birthday.

Originally training for total fitness, Whitley’s six-month training plan evolved to ensure the memory of three Wingmen lost to suicide, kept running. 

Every death by suicide is a tragedy. The Department of Defense has dedicated efforts to educate and support the force, and emphasizes social connectedness for suicide prevention in the military.  

Whitley ran for his fallen comrades’ memory, to advocate for suicide awareness, and to be the voice for prevention.

Even though his absence would cause a manning crunch, Whitley’s leadership commended his motives and approved him for permissive TDY to run the AF Marathon in person.

“Technical Sergeant Whitley is the epitome of a Wingman and a valued member of the A-Team in the 315th Training Squadron,” said Master Sgt. Jessica Campbell, 315th TRS GEOINT analyst course flight chief and supervisor to Whitley. “He’s always putting everyone else above himself. When he requested to go on PTDY to attend the Air Force Marathon, I could not deny it.”

Through training, he continued to excel in his job, while dedicating time and effort to raise money to help support the families of the fallen.

“Technical Sergeant Whitley continued to help and support all of the Airmen here on Goodfellow,” said Campbell. “He also strived to ensure the families of his fallen Wingmen were taken care of.”

With their names on his back, Whitley ran through the historical sites on Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, including the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, the Wright-Patterson AFB flight line, and the Wright Brothers Memorial Monument.

“Around mile 20, we began going through the Blue Mile,” said Whitley. “It’s a mile stretch featuring ‘Faces of the Fallen’ posters that pay tribute to our fallen military members.”

Whitley began to cry as he passed the handmade poster of his lost Wingmen.

“I saw the poster of the three friends I had recently lost in the two months before the marathon,” said Whitley. “I could barely breathe because I was sobbing while running.”

Through fatigue and pain, Whitley endured the run with the names of his fallen wingmen on his back, striving not only to meet his personal goal of under a four hour run-time, but to ensure that his fellow wingmen were honored alongside other fallen heroes.

“Technical Sergeant Whitley shows what it means to be part of the Air Force’s family,” said Campbell. “To always care for the Airmen and their families, and never leaving an Airmen behind or forgetting about their sacrifices.”