Tag Archives: Air Force blog

Libyans, Airmen: the Bond of Freedom

By Maj. Michael Meridith
18th Air Force

As members of the greatest military on the planet, we recognize and honor those who are willing to make great sacrifices in the cause of freedom. On Saturday in the same place that the American republic was born, I was privileged to come face to face with a group of Libyan fighters who had made those sacrifices.

At the request of the Department of State, the Secretary of Defense had directed two medical assistance missions in Libya. In the first mission, four wounded fighters were transported to medical facilities in Europe by a C-130J Super Hercules aircraft assigned to the 86th Airlift Wing at Ramstein Air Base, Germany.

A C-17 Globemaster III aircraft assigned to the 172nd Airlift Wing out of Jackson, Miss., carried out the second mission, landing at Boston Logan International Airport in the midst of a massive winter storm after a nearly 13-hour flight from Libya. As the senior Air Force representative sent to the location, I had the honor of greeting the flight.

The Libyan Transitional National Council had requested the transport of fighters to American medical facilities because their injuries could not be treated in Libya. This is a testament to the esteem in which American medical professionals are held. This esteem holds true for the unsung aeromedical evacuation (AE) professionals that ensured the safe, comfortable transport of these wounded warriors.
U.S. Air Force aeromedical evacuation

I saw that esteem firsthand in the emotional hugs and handshakes shared between the Libyans and the AE crew as the patients departed. In those farewells I saw more than just a physician-patient relationship; I saw respect between two groups of individuals who had made the conscious decision to put everything on the line for the cause of freedom.

We often speak of how air mobility “answers the call” and “delivers hope.” AE crews are hard at work across the globe every single day, answering those calls and saving lives, whether thousands in the case of major humanitarian crises or the 22 that debarked the aircraft at Logan. These professionals will humbly tell you, as one did that evening, “we’re here to help out … that’s what we’re called to do. We bring the guys back safely.”

While their modesty does them credit, it’s important to recognize the contribution of AE professionals is far-reaching. In fact, these experts have conducted more than 179,000 patient movements and 36,000 sorties since the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom on March 19, 2003. That averages out to nearly 12.4 potentially life-saving missions a day.

While no one can predict exactly what the future of Libya holds, I wonder what the wounded warriors will think about America when they return home. I don’t doubt they will be thankful for the care they received, but I wonder if they will also recognize that at least part of that care was provided by warriors like themselves … linked by a common bond: the willingness to sacrifice for freedom.

Photo: U.S. Air Force aeromedical evacuation crews, along with local emergency medical personnel, assist Libyan fighters off of a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III cargo aircraft at Boston Logan Airport Oct. 29. At the request of the Department of State and directed by the Secretary of Defense, the U.S. military is supporting U.S. and international medical assistance efforts in Libya. Specifically, the U.S. Air Force transported 22 wounded Libyans to Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Salem, Mass. (Photo by Walter Santos)

Please, hang up and drive

By Don Branum
Air Force Academy Public Affairs

If you’ve been in the Air Force for a while, you might know the name Gary Kunich. He worked for European Stars and Stripes around the time I first entered the Air Force in 1999. He retired in 2006 as a master sergeant, but he has never put down the pen: today he writes for local publications in his adopted hometown of Kenosha, Wis.

Today, he has a new message, one that he’s asking everyone to help spread: “Don’t drive distracted. Put away your electronic devices before you start your engine.”

It’s a message he can’t spread by himself, but it’s one that might have saved his son.

Kunich shared tragic news with a group of military public affairs professionals via Facebook Aug. 14: Devin Kunich, 21, had died a few days earlier when a car hit his bicycle along County Highway H in Pleasant Prairie, Wis., in the early hours of Aug. 7.

According to Pleasant Prairie Police Department reports, visibility was poor: the stretch of County Highway H where the accident occurred has no street lights, and a fog blanketed the area. Devin was riding north, on his way home from the Bristol, Wis., Renaissance Faire, where, according to his obituary, he was captain of the Black Swan swing ride.

At the same time, 18-year-old Quashae Taylor was driving along the same road. She was driving without her glasses and had been talking off and on to her boyfriend on her cellphone. She closed her eyes for what she described as a “long blink” as she answered her phone again at approximately 12:45 a.m.

Taylor probably never saw Devin before she hit his bicycle from behind. The impact flipped him onto her car, where he lay for almost six seconds before falling off. Police would later find his backpack, personal belongings and bicycle seat strewn in a 300-foot trail from the impact site.

Taylor slowed down, called 911 and stopped at the intersection of County Highway H and State Highway 165, a mile north of the accident scene. The paramedics who responded pronounced Devin dead at the scene.

As tragically as the events unfolded, one thing stuck out at me: the police reported that Devin was wearing dark clothing at the time of the accident and was not wearing a helmet. They later found a light which may have been on his bicycle at the time of impact.

I talked with one of my co-workers about the situation on Aug. 15. At the time, police had reported not finding any lights or rear reflectors on Devin’s bike. I asked my co-worker, a fellow bicyclist, how I could write a story without mentioning that it might have been impossible for anyone to see Devin until the last second? Neither of us had a good answer.

That answer came a couple of days later, on the evening of Aug. 17. I was talking to my wife as we walked through Garden of the Gods Park, and as I posed the same question to her, I recalled a similar event about a year ago.

I was driving north along Chelton Road, just north of Fountain Boulevard in Colorado Springs, about an hour after dark. A bicyclist, dressed in dark clothing and with no lights on his bicycle, seemingly appeared out of nowhere. I had maybe half a second to swerve just enough to avoid him – and I probably missed him by less than a foot.

Half a second. The blink of an eye.

What if I had been trying to answer my phone instead of paying attention to the road?

Quashae Taylor has no prior record, no criminal history, not even a traffic ticket. Prosecutors have charged her with negligent homicide: she faces up to 10 years in prison and a $25,000 fine. The blink of an eye changed her life.

Devin Kunich is dead. The blink of an eye ended his.

Gary and Ruth Kunich must live the rest of their lives without their son. Gary told me he doesn’t want her to face extensive jail time but does want “some jail time and accountability.”

“The hard part is struggling with the forgiveness (balanced with) the accountability,” he said.

But more importantly, Gary and Ruth want people to put the phone away before turning the ignition.

So please, hang up and drive.

Photos: Devin Kunich poses for a photo at the Bristol, Wis., Renaissance Faire in this photo taken by his father, retired Master Sgt. Gary Kunich. Devin was killed shortly after midnight Aug. 8, 2011, by a distracted driver as he was bicycling home from the faire. (Courtesy photo)

Left behind

By Senior Airman Alexandria Mosness
20th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

A 4-year old girl with shoulder-length, light-brown hair and big brown eyes sat on the edge of the countertop with her legs dangling over the side, swinging back and forth. A strong man three times her size with hardworking hands touched her gently, and looked at her with tears streaming down his weathered face. “Mommy is not coming back. Mommy is in heaven with Grandpa,” he told her as his voice cracked. The brave little girl reached her tiny hand up to his sad face and wiped away his tears, as she said, “Don’t worry Daddy, it will be okay.”

But it was not okay; her mother, my aunt, had committed suicide only days earlier.Suicide prevention

Everyone has heard about suicide, but many people may not think it will affect them. But I guarantee if you ask around, it hits closer to home than you might think.

Yet, we still believe it won’t be someone we love. I didn’t think I would ever hear the news that my aunt Maria, who was only in her mid-30s, would take her own life.

I was a freshman in high school when I turned around at lunch one day with a smile still fresh on my face from a joke I overhead, when I saw my father’s pain-stricken face. I knew right then something was very wrong.

From then on the moments are a blur. When I look back, all I sense is a heavy dread and pain, a pain that tears deeply each time I look at my little cousin Olivia. Although Maria committed suicide about 8 years ago, it still breaks my heart to think about the life she missed out on.

She, like many people who commit suicide, dealt with depression. The one thing I wish I could have shown her was her funeral and all the people who sat in the pews crying. I wish she would have been able to see her 4-year-old daughter walk down the aisle of the big church, side-by-side with the coffin, and lay a rose on top of her mother’s lifeless body. I wish she would have felt the love of those who cared for her dearly, and those that might have been able to pull her off of that edge.

But my wishes are just that… wishes.

What I don’t want is for you to be the one wishing. Once a loved one takes his or her life, we have no control. We are the survivors, and we are the ones who must keep going.

From the time I began high school and throughout my military career, I have been inundated with computer-based training modules, classes and countless Airmen days on the topic of suicide.

But even with all of this knowledge and available resources, the Air Force battles this issue. Some might not think it can happen to them or someone they know,

So, what can we do to help those in need?

Many may think it is cliché, but I always smile at everyone. I always think especially since I am a survivor, what if that one act brings them back. Maybe it is not that simple, but kindness does go a long way.

We are always told to be good wingmen. This goes hand-in-hand with improving our resiliency. When you see your co-worker down or acting different, pull him or her aside. See what is wrong. A lot of times, all people need is someone to talk to.

If someone comes and tells you of a plan to hurt him or herself, don’t laugh it off. The person is reaching out to you. Listen and then help find the assistance he or she may need.

Social media is huge these days. We may take what our friends say online as a joke or not take them seriously, but if you start noticing a trend or something that makes you raise your eyebrows, do something about it. Heck, it might not be anything, but how would you feel if you found out later that person had harmed him or herselves? You truly can save lives.

There will always be challenges in this world, but if we all take that extra step and treat people like valued human-beings, maybe we can stop losing our Air Force family to this dreadful thing.

I know that if we had seen the warning signs, my little cousin would not be walking around on Easter grasping a picture of her mother because she missed her, but instead holding her hand and celebrating the joyous moments in life.

Photo: (U.S. Air Force photo illustration by Airman 1st Class Corey Hook)

In memory of my father

Earlier this month, we asked you all to share some of your stories with us. To get the ball rolling Capt Millerchip shared her life changing experiences working with the Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operation Center in “Cherishing life, past heroes.” Dave Steele was one of many who answered our call…

By Dave Steele
Son of Col. Ralph J. Steele

Mr. Steele's father in group photo

Dear Captain Millerchip,

I read your blog posting regarding Memorial Day stories and wanted to share mine with you.

I’m not a veteran but Memorial Day and Veterans Day have a special meaning to me. My dad passed away on Memorial Day back in 2000. He was Col. Ralph J. Steele and served in the Army Air Corps and U.S. Air Force from 1942 until his retirement in 1972. He was assigned to the 21st Weather Squadron during WWII stationed in England and eventually France, served in Korea and in the 1960s became the first commander of the Air Force Global Weather Center (AFGWC) located at Offutt Air Force Base where he worked in the famous “Building D.” He served our country with honor and dignity throughout his career and was instrumental in helping develop computerized systems for weather data gathering during his time at Offutt. His decorations include a bronze star with oak leaf clusters and two Legion of Merit awards.

When he passed away he was buried at the Portland National Cemetery in Oregon with full military honors. I still get emotional when I hear Taps. One of the most poignant moments for me during the ceremony was when they handed the flag to my mother – I will never forget that. In effect, my mother served alongside my father, as do all military wives. They had been married for 58 years when he died. They were married in 1942 and three weeks after their wedding my father was on the Queen Mary bound for England not knowing when he would return. When my father retired my mother was also presented with a certificate of service for her steadfast years of supporting my father and his service to our country.

This Memorial Day was the first year that my mother could not visit my father’s grave to put flowers on it. The National Cemetery in Portland is on a beautiful rolling hillside. On Memorial Day, when the flags are all out and the color guards are there, it is a very emotional and inspiring sight. I am quite proud of my father’s service to our country and my mother’s support of him and our family during his service. I was 15 years old when my father retired and we settled in Corvallis, Ore. To this day, one of my biggest regrets is that I didn’t continue in his footsteps and also serve our country.

 Young Dave SteeleWhen I see or read stories of our brave men and women serving our country in these difficult times it always makes me think about my father. I know he would be extremely proud of all the service members and their sacrifices to ensure our freedom and the threats to freedom everywhere.

Thank you Captain Millerchip, for your service and for your efforts in honoring our past and present service members.

 

Photos: (Top) A picture taken of my father when he was in England during the war. (Bottom) A picture of me taken in the AFGWC cement bunker in Building D in 1968 during a family visit day.

Cherishing life, past heroes

By Capt Amber Millerchip
Air Force Public Affairs Agency

I’m Capt Amber Millerchip, Chief of Emerging Technology for the Air Force Public Affairs Agency, and I’d like to share with you how one of my deployments changed me. Last week, we (AF Social Media) asked you on Facebook to share with us what you planned to do to honor fallen service members on Memorial Day. We read such amazing stories, and we were inspired to try something new. In order to highlight some of your stories, we want you to be guest bloggers and send us posts for the USAF blog (instructions are below). I hope that my blog post will inspire you to write your own post.
Capt Amber Millerchip

As a third generation Air Force officer, Memorial Day weekend is more than time off from work, picnics and fun in the sun; it’s a special time. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about enjoying the break and spending time with family, but what’s more important is taking the time to reflect, honor and remember those veterans who’ve served and those who’ve died for our great nation.

Last summer, I deployed to the Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operation Center, Dover Air Force Base, Del., where all of our fallen service members arrive home from combat. During the dignified transfers, I shared in the ultimate loss of parents, spouses and children. Some were silent welcoming their loved one home and others cried out their despair, their heartbreak so evident I barely could maintain my military bearing and at times just couldn’t stop my tears from falling.

I come from a very big military family and thank goodness we’ve never lost anyone to combat, but I did lose a best friend. She died in a joint exercise in Egypt. In her short life, she was a such as bright star. Her amazing spirit shone through her eyes and affected everyone she met. When I was at Dover, I couldn’t help but think of her, and although I didn’t get to help her on her final journey, at least I was able to help those that I could. 

My deployment was one of the most intense and honorable experiences of my life, and I felt blessed for the opportunity to help my fallen comrades on their final journey home. Looking back, I realize they helped me more than I helped them. Their sacrifices and their family’s sacrifices deeply touched me. I am a better person and Airman after these experiences. I realized with every fallen service member I encountered, it could be me, or one of my brothers, troops or friends serving. The experience renewed my pride in my service and gave me such an appreciation for my life. I will NEVER be the same again.
Grandfather
I decided to start a Memorial Day tradition every year. I’m going to do something remarkable. Something that reminds me that life is precious, beautiful, and that I should live life to the fullest– now! This past weekend I decided to do sky diving to honor my fallen comrades, including my friend and my grandfather, a former WWII hero who didn’t die in combat, but flying later on in his life. Not sure what next year will be, but I can promise you it will be a grand adventure, and I’ll be thinking about these special people all the way.

We want to know how the USAF has taught you a lesson or inspired you. Send us your own stories for our consideration at afbluetube@gmail.com. We need from you at least 300 words, a headline, a byline, and a photo with a caption. We’ll fix typos and grammatical errors, but we won’t change your writing style. Remember to keep entries family friendly and relevant. Profanity or solicitation will not be read. We will pick the best and share them with our social media followers.

PHOTOS: (Top) This is me in action at Dover Air Force Base, Del. I was waiting for the vehicle transporting the family to the flight line for a dignified transfer. (U.S. Air Force photo by Roland Balik). (Bottom) An up-close photo of my grandfather and a crew member in front of his A-20 Havoc.