Photo: U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Israel Garcia from the 36th Security Forces Squadron looks down the sights of an M-4 assault rifle during training at the Pacific Air Forces Regional Training Center on Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, Nov.7, 2011. Each defender in training was taught war-fighting techniques by cadres assigned to the 736th Security Forces Squadron Commando Warrior Fight. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Benjamin Wiseman)
Photo: Staff Sgt. Nathan Bolander, a maintainer from the 14th Aircraft Maintenance Unit, Misawa Air Base, Japan, works on an F-16 Fighting Falcon during an operational readiness exercise Nov. 9, 2011. The 35th Fighter Wing is going through rehearsed procedures, during a base ORE, to train for the operational readiness inspection next month. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Nathan Lipscomb)
Veterans Day is near and dear to my family since many family members have served this nation across several service branches. I’ve attended many ceremonies and services at various locations over the years, but there is a place I have yet to visit on a military holiday – the Air Force Memorial.
Why would I want to spend Veterans Day visiting the Air Force Memorial specifically? It’s because my daughters are finally old enough to notice the details of the memorial and what they mean. It’s a visual representation of me and my husband’s Air Force service, and I’d really like to see the wonder in their eyes at seeing the memorial for the first time.
What I remember most about the first time I ever saw the memorial, was the way the three soaring, shiny stainless steel spires seem to rise up out of the trees when driving up to the memorial site. It was their graceful curvature that took me back to my childhood when I saw the Thunderbirds perform what’s known as the bomb burst maneuver.
I also remember a lot of the news that came out about the design and building of the memorial – some people liked the design while others were very vocal in saying how much they didn’t like it. What mattered to me was my service branch finally having a memorial for our Airmen that captures our mission – much like the Navy’s Lone Sailor Statue signifies the service of Sailors and the Marine Corps War Memorial embodies the courage and sacrifice of Marines.
The memorial is not just for the men and women serving in today’s Air Force but also those who served in early organizations like the Aeronautical Division and Aviation Section of the U.S. Signal Corps; the Army Air Service; the U.S. Army Air Corps; and the U.S. Army Air Forces among others. This is for all of America’s Airmen.
The memorial also features a bronze honor guard statue, which I also identify with – not as a ceremonial guardsman in the U.S. Air Force Honor Guard – but as a young Airman allowed to participate as a member of the base honor guard at McChord Air Force Base, Wash.
The opportunities I had to render final honors for many who served in the Army Air Corps and some who served much more recently really opened my eyes to how much we owe to people who choose to join the ranks of those going off into the wild blue yonder for their country.
As a kid growing up in rural Ohio, I loved watching the crop dusters flying over local farms and enjoyed each chance I got to fly to Texas to visit my grandparents for summer vacations. I’m sure all that, my dad’s service in the Ohio Air National Guard, and my being born in San Antonio, home of the Gateway to the Air Force, played a part in my decision to join.
The Air Force memorial is more than just steel spires, bronze statues, granite walls or the glass contemplation wall honoring fallen Airmen. It shows the American people the spirit of its Airmen through the decades, represents our core values and recognizes the three components that make up our Total Force.
It is a legacy of American Airmen and airpower that I hope future generations, including that of my daughters, can look upon with awe as they remember the great feats we have accomplished and the leaders we have developed.
Photo: The Air Force Memorial in Arlington, Va., is the site of a dedication ceremony Oct. 14, 2006, at 9 a.m. Organizers braved the cooler afternoon temperatures Oct. 12 making final preperations for the dedication ceremony. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Larry A. Simmons)
As we approach Nov. 11, Veterans Day, I am reminded more readily that those of us wearing the uniform have a special bond with those who have worn the uniform — our veterans. We share an identity that transcends any differences we may have. We unite in a duty to serve and sacrifice for our great nation, to ensure liberty and freedom continues to have a solid foundation in America as the beacon of hope for the world. I submit for your consideration the story below which occurred earlier in my career. Remembering this story helps frame for me, on a personal level, our obligation to our veterans. I hope it does for you as well.
After an uneventful visit to the base barber shop, I thought I would kill some time in what had promised to be an uneventful day. I decided to visit the clothing sales store — not to buy anything, but just to browse around.
Upon entering, I circled around toward the book section to see what was new. As I picked up a copy of some book, I noticed out of the corner of my eye an older gentleman, perhaps 70, struggling to pick out some merchandise. I paid closer attention and saw he was having trouble reading the tags.
Not wanting to appear patronizing, I just watched a while, not offering any assistance. As time progressed and he made no headway in his search, I felt something inside tell me to help. Maybe it was the small Purple Heart pin on his hat that motivated me, I really don’t know. Slowly, I moved toward him and asked if I could help him find something.
I was relieved when he turned and pleasantly said, “Yes, I can’t seem to find the American Defense Service Medal ribbon.” Immediately, I noticed a sheet of paper organized in lists in one hand and ribbons in the other. He was obviously reconstructing his old ribbons and medals for display or wear.
We worked through the list together, talking as we went. He told me how he was finally going to get all of his medals together and put them in a shadow box on the wall for his grandchildren. He had recently received word that he was awarded several medals and decorations from World War II that were forgotten as he was a medic assigned to another unit. The list outlined awards and decorations from World War II and Korea.
As we double checked the list, he explained what each attachment meant. “This arrowhead means an amphibious assault landing — went in on the first wave at Normandy. This Combat Infantryman’s Badge means I was in continuous combat with the enemy for 30 days in a row. We got this one and the Combat Medic’s Badge. This is a new one, the Prisoner of War Medal. Didn’t have that one when I was a POW. This one here, we all got for going to defend South Korea in 1950.”
He didn’t brag, he just stated matter-of-factly what they all meant.
In the course of our conversation, he learned I was an Air Force officer. From then on, he addressed me as “Sir.”
He acted glad that I’d helped, and was even more appreciative when I asked the clerk to run a copy of the “order of precedence” ribbon chart for him to take home. As he walked to the counter to pay for his ribbons and badges, I told him I was honored to help him. He replied, “Thank you, sir.” I thought it was odd for a man of 70 to be calling me sir, but I guess that’s just the type of man he is.
As I walked toward my car, my thoughts turned to the hundreds of injured soldiers he must have helped, the faces he must have looked into and reassured as bombs fell around them and bullets whizzed by, the helplessness he must have felt as he watched someone’s son, husband, father and brother die in his arms. The great exhilarations of battle, the fear of death he faced each day, all swirled in my head. Each time his country called, he was there, ready to do what had to be done. I owe him — we all owe him, and all those like him — for what we have today. This world is not perfect, but it is closer due to their sacrifice.
From the beaches of Normandy to the hills of Korea, he served his country with pride and, from the number of awards, with great distinction. There are many veterans out there with a similar story. Whether it is the jungles of New Guinea, the deserts of Africa, Kuwait or Iraq that their stories highlight, the frigid cold of a Korea or an Afghanistan winter or the rainy season in the Mekong Delta, they all have done this country a great service. When we think of war, we tend to think most often of the dead, but Veterans Day is a day to also remember all those who served their country. Gen. George S. Patton said it best in a post-World War II speech: “Everyone always talks about the heroic dead, well damn it, there’s a lot of heroic alive ones out there, too!”
We see those “heroic alive ones” every day. Perhaps it’s a Veterans of Foreign Wars cap, a sticker on a car, a pin on a suit, a Purple Heart license plate, an American Legion shirt, or maybe it’s your dad, grandpa, brother, sister, uncle or just a close friend. If you see one of these “heroic alive ones,” go over and shake their hand just to say, “Thank you.” It’s a small gesture, but a meaningful one. Their greatest pleasure, or payoff so to speak, is the freedom we still have, due in large part to their sacrifice and example.
I met a hero. And though I haven’t been asked to do what he did, I’m ready, when my country needs me. Meeting him, seeing his example and accomplishments, strengthened my resolve and boosted my pride. Some people say there are no heroes left, our kids can’t look up to anyone. Well, I say they’re blind. Heroes are everywhere … you just have to look.
I met one in clothing sales.
By Airman 1st Class Krystal Tomlin
Air Force Public Affairs
In attending Air Force Association’s 2011 Air & Space Conference & Technology Exposition, I had the opportunity to sit in on the Command Chief Master Sergeant Forum where the chiefs answered questions from the participants on any topic relating to the Air Force and leadership.
A number of interesting questions were brought up. What’s the biggest challenge to the enlisted force? How can supervisors best lead millennial troops? Do you have any advice for junior enlisted Airmen?
As I was listening to the responses to these questions I began to notice that from the day we receive that cherished Airman’s coin and the even greater treasure of being called an Airman each one of us has the answers.
When asked if all Airmen are professionals, all of the chiefs agreed without a doubt that we are absolutely professionals. Command Chief Master Sergeant to the Director of the Air National Guard Christopher Muncy said that with all of the training and education requirements that Airmen have to maintain we may even be more professional than our civilian counterparts. This professionalism is something that we learn in basic training and solidify throughout our career.
Another recurring theme was taking care of each other and trusting leadership. These were part of nearly every topic, and though they were usually brought up as two separate things, I believe that they go hand in hand.
Chief Master Sergeant William W. Turner, Command Chief Master Sergeant for Air Force Special Operations Command, said that one of the biggest stressors for the enlisted force is uncertainty of the future. Chief Master Sergeant John T. Salzman, Command Chief Master Sergeant of the U.S. Air Force Academy, followed that up by saying Airmen know with certainty that they will deploy, but they don’t know what will happen to their family. The solution they offered was to trust that leadership will make the right decisions.
A piece of advice that Chief Master Sergeant Pat Battenberg, Command Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force District of Washington, gave to Airmen might also help leaders at all levels gain the trust that will help alleviate some stress, and it involves taking care of one another. He said to try to find a way to say yes even when it may be easier to say no.
Munsy wrapped it up nicely when he reminded us that the first thing we were ever issued in the military was a wingman.
We keep our uniforms, equipment and personal appearance in inspection order, so ask yourself, are you taking the same care with your wingmen?
Photo: Chief Master Sgt. Pat Battenberg, Air Force District of Washington command chief, answers a question from a member of the audience Sept. 19, 2011 at the Command Chief Master Sergeant Forum during the Air Force Association 2011 Air & Space Conference & Technology Exposition in National Harbor, Md. The forum was an opportunity for Airmen to have a direct line of communication with top leaders in the Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Melissa Goslin)