Dispatch from a Pentagon Airman

The Pentagon is one of those places where you’ll never know what you’ll see. Would you expect an art museum? Well, museum might be stretching it but there’s certainly a collection.

In the Air Force section there are a lot of paintings depicting Air Force life, history, and senior leaders. Would never expect an aerial painting of a remote north Pacific island?

Outside the Air Force Services Store is a painting of Shemya Air Force Base from 1980. The 3.5 mile by 2 mile land mass is part of the Aleutian Island is now known as Eareckson Air Station.

This painting interested me because my brother did a one-year remote tour there about the time of the painting’s commissioning. He told me usual stories we’ve all heard about Alaska… long winter nights and short days, and the long summer days and non-existent nights. He also said mail flew in one day a week…Wednesdays, I think. While the weather might have been fine when the plane left Elmendorf Air Force Base 1,500 miles to the east, poor weather frequently would come in at the last minute. The inclement weather kept the plane from landing. He said hearing the mail plane flying overhead and unable to land was a sad feeling.

Here are some other Air Force stories of interest I found…

Life-saving Airman

Congratulations, Staff Sgt. Chris Harlan of the 965th Airborne Air Control Squadron, Tinker Air Force Base, Okla. Because of his heroic actions in 2007, four Indian exchange students are alive today. Sergeant Harlan helped rescue them from drowning at Turner Falls Park. (Sergeant honored for lifesaving action). He received the Airman’s Medal.

Sergeant Harlan offers a quote everyone should remember.

“Within five minutes of showing up there, somebody lost their life. Things can change fast,” he said. “It just makes you appreciate what you have. A lot of people experience loss and tragedy … but people forget how quickly you can lose a loved one.”

Unusual birthday present

With the focus on Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, it’s easy to forget there are Airmen deployed elsewhere, such as Joint Task Force-Bravo at Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras.

Recently, a senior airman firefighter there received an unusual birthday present. Senior Airman Alisha Rowe fought her first fire. (Airman celebrates birthday, helps extinguish her first fire)

“My heart started racing as it does on every call since I’m not quite sure what to expect on each emergency,” Airman Rowe said. “Once on scene, I could see smoke coming out of the door of the building, and I got a little excited knowing this was my first fire.

“After it was over I remember how distinct the smell of charred wood was and how warm it still was in the small building,” Airman Rowe said. “When we were cleaning up our equipment I thought about how I will never forget my first fire or my 23rd birthday.”

Medical Readiness at Soto Cano

JTF-Bravo’s medical element conducted a medical readiness and training exercise Aug. 25 and 26 in San Fernando, El Salvador. The MEDRETE treated more than 900 Salvadorans. (MEDRETE provides free medical care to El Salvador villagers). The lead of 1st Lt. Jennifer Richard’s story certainly put the reader in the setting:

Eighty-seven year-old Aurelia Lopez walked two hours round-trip through the mountains of El Salvador to receive free medical care – the first time she had seen a doctor in 40 years.

Ms. Lopez suffered from arthritis and stomach pain, in addition to a large goiter on her neck. She received free treatment from a team of U.S. and Salvadoran personnel hosting a medical readiness and training exercise, or MEDRETE, in the remote village of San Fernando, El Salvador, Aug. 25 and 26.

“I am happy with this medical team because it is really hard to get medical care here,” said Ms. Lopez. “The next closest medical center takes four hours round-trip to walk to, and I don’t have the money to pay to see a doctor.”

BEAST-ly good photos

There’s an awesome photo essay on basic trainees undergoing Basic Expeditionary Airman Training, or BEAST, at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, Sept. 2. (Photo essay: Trainees conquer the BEAST)

Well, guess it’s better late than never…

Former Army Air Forces Tech. Sgt. Howard “Holt” Thornton finally received decorations due him from his service in World War II. (WWII vet receives long-awaited medals)

At an Aug. 29 ceremony at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C., Mr. Thornton received his medals from Col. Mark Kelly, 4th Fighter Wing commander. Mr. Thornton commented on his World War II exploits, which included raids over the Ploesti Oil Fields of Romania.

“We took three flights to Ploesti; they called them combat missions,” he said. “We dubbed them suicide missions. One time into combat is enough for anybody.”

Mr. Thornton says he feels very grateful to be where he is today.

“I’m very thankful; I carried a prayer book with me on all the missions I flew, in my flying book. I’m the same way now,” he said.

Airmen searches for wings

While on the topic of World War II Airmen, the Associated Press ran a story about Bernerd Harding returning to Klein Quenstedt, Germany, where he was shot down July 7, 1944. (US pilot returns to site of WWII crash) He was searching for his wings that he removed from his uniform to avoid reprisals from German villagers.

Reading stories about what World War II Airmen endured always amazes me anyone ever went up in an aircraft. They were heroes. That’s how they did it. Harding and his crew were on a mission with nine other aircraft to bomb Bernburg, Germany. After the bomb run, the German Luftwaffe attacked the B-24s. The Germans shot all down. One hundred Airmen were killed or captured.

Wow…I’m in awe of World War II Airmen. The life they endured is hard to comprehend. They are heroes.

Mr. Harding didn’t find his wings

Finally…In Memoriam

Condolences to the family and friends of 1st Lt. Joseph Helton, 24, of Monroe, Ga. Lieutenant Helton died Sept. 8 near Baghdad when an improvised explosive devise struck his vehicle. He was assigned to the 6th Security Forces Squadron, MacDill Air Force Base, Fla.

Master Sgt. Russell P. Petcoff works in the Pentagon with Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs.