5K run in memory of Frankfurt Airport shooting victim raises money for charity
Runners take off Saturday in the second annual Zac Cuddeback Memorial 5k. Cuddeback, an airman 1st class, and another airman were gunned down two years ago by a gunman at Frankfurt Airport in what prosecutors at the shooter's trial called a "personal jihad."
Stars and Stripes
RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — Those who knew Airman 1st Class Zachary Cuddeback say that had someone else been killed, they have no doubt he’d be out on a cold morning like this to run in their memory.
Instead, those who knew the fallen airman — and hundreds more who didn’t — were out Saturday morning to run in tribute to Cuddeback, one of two airmen killed two years ago at Frankfurt Airport in a shooting that rocked the military community in Europe.
Though conceived in response to a tragedy, the Zac Cuddeback Memorial 5K, now in its second year, has become a way for members of Cuddeback’s former unit, the 86th Vehicle Readiness Squadron, to mark his death in a positive way.
More than 900 people took part in this year’s event, which raised more than $10,000 for various charities, according to organizers.
Some of his former colleagues said it’s probably how the 21-year-old with the ever-present smile would have wanted them to pay tribute to him — by helping others.
“It was bad juju that it happened,” Staff Sgt. Palmer Durrence, a fellow member of the 86th, said. “But it’s good ... we get to put on an event like this, get everybody out here, raise some money and put something good forth in Cuddeback’s name. I think that if he had an opportunity to say anything about it, it’s more of what he would’ve wanted than anything else.”
“He was just a special guy,” Staff Sgt. Ashley Rivera, a friend and former colleague, said. “He had an amazing personality. He was very charismatic, always had a huge smile on his face. No matter what, you would always be in a good mood when you are around him.”
Airmen from the 86th had served multiple deployments in Iraq and grew to expect that death could come on the road, said Master Sgt. Robert Berrier, who was one of Cuddeback’s supervisors.
But the circumstances of Cuddeback’s death — at the hands of a gunman prosecutors said was carrying out a “personal jihad” —while making a routine shuttle trip to pick up personnel from a German airport rattled the unit.
The attacker, Arid Uka, a Kosovo Albanian, was found guilty last year of two counts of murder and three counts of attempted murder and sentenced to life in prison. Also killed was Senior Airman Nicholas J. Alden, a member of a unit of military police en route to a deployment in Afghanistan.
“To actually have that happen here to one of our guys who was just doing a day-to-day run... was hard for everybody,” Berrier said.
“Me, I felt a little guilty, because I dispatched him out on the run,” said Staff Sgt. John Tegeler, another of Cuddeback’s former supervisors and one of the event’s organizers. “So, it could have been anybody I dispatched out on that run.”
Were Cuddeback still alive, “he would be the one smoking a cigarette right before the run, running the run and winning first place, and then he’d be smoking another cigarette as I’m heading up the back of the line,” Rivera said. “He was in great shape, but he was always motivational for other people, too.”
“He’d probably be one of the ones leading the charge out here,” Berrier said. “He was involved in the community. He was involved in taking care of his fellow wingman. He was a standup kid.”
Cuddeback was also a member of a local hockey club, the Eagles, and dozens of his former teammates came to pay tribute as well, some running in hockey gear.
“He was a good skater. Very fun, very determined,” said Robert Moore, an Eagle who took the first-place medal for men over 60. “He was a good kid, and I’m glad that we could have a big successful event here to honor him and help out some causes.”