An Airman rises to honor a fallen Soldier

By Maj. Rosaire Bushey
AETC Public Affairs

Today I had the privilege to be a very small part of several hundred people who gathered to honor a fallen warrior. Army Sgt. Thomas Bohall returned to Texas today from Afghanistan and he was met by a line of respect that stretched for more than half a mile.

Fallen Soldier Words, however, are a poor substitute to the sights and more specifically to a single face in which a whole world of non-verbal emotion collided.

Lining the road there were uniforms, mostly ABUs, the odd BDU, flight suits, civilian slacks, skirts, suits. They were representative of the team that makes the military work. They were worn by every skin tone you could consider and they came equipped with boots, shoes, pumps, and heels; with berets, flight caps, garrison caps and even cowboy hats, and they stood under a double line of 50 state flags – everywhere you looked you could see all of America represented.
At the end of the line, through the base gates, two ladder trucks from local fire departments formed an arch across the road, with an American flag hanging. And as the procession approached, what little noise there was ceased. Cars stopped, contractors doing grounds maintenance stood at attention and doffed their hats, uniformed service members saluted.

As Sgt. Bohall passed I dipped my eyes and in a fraction of a second, locked eyes with a woman who I can only assume was a wife, girlfriend or sister. I’ll never know. She was no more than two feet away. She was sitting sideways in her car, facing directly into the row of us lining the road. Her face, wracked with grief and desperately straining to hold back tears that would end her connection with us, was a storm of emotion.

Salute a fallen SoldierBarely visible beneath the grief there was also a hint of a smile on her tear-stained lips. That near-smile and her wide eyes spoke clearly of pride – the pride she had for Sgt. Bohall – Thomas — regardless of the relationship they shared. Mostly, however, I saw in her face thankfulness. She was staring at people who had never met Thomas, never met her or her family, and yet here they were. On some level I think she probably understood at that moment that Thomas had always been around family, even when he was far from home.

In a second, she was gone, replaced by the low rumble of 74 motorcycles from the Patriot Guard, providing top cover for Sgt. Bohall and his family.

Salutes were lowered, cars moved, groundskeepers went back to work, but it was all quieter now. Did it matter that we were there; that we took an insignificant portion of our lives and saluted a fallen comrade?

Had you seen this woman’s face, her eyes, her gratitude, you wouldn’t even ask.

It made a difference. It mattered … a lot.

Photos: (Top) A U.S. Army carry team transfers the remains of Army Sgt. Thomas A. Bohall, of Bel Aire, Kan., at Randolph Air Force Base, Texas, June 7. Sergeant Bohall was assigned to the 4th Battalion, 101st Aviation Regiment, 159th Combat Aviation Brigade, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), Fort Campbell, Ky. (Bottom) A crowd gathers as a motorcade processional transporting the remains of Army Sgt. Thomas A. Bohall. Sergeant Bohall was one of six soldiers from Fort Campbell who were supporting Operation Enduring Freedom and killed by an improvised explosive device during an insurgent attack May 26, 2011 in Kandahar province, Afghanistan. (U.S. Air Force photos by Don Lindsey)

 

Part of the solution

By Capt. Chris Sukach

Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs

We’ve all done it.  Encountered a problem or frustration and said, “This is messed up.  Someone should fix it.”  And maybe we’ve complained about the frustration and possibly even offered up solutions, but how often do we see those solutions through?

Ken Fisher, Chairman of the Fisher House Foundation, is a person who not only provides solutions to problems, but sees those solutions through to fruition.  Just seven months ago he learned that families who travel to Dover Air Force Base, Del. to witness the dignified transfers of their loved ones sometimes had difficulty finding lodging when hotels in the area were fully booked.

Even though they were in the midst of building 14 other Fisher Houses at the time, Ken and his team leapt into action to build a unique Fisher House, one that would provide families with not only a place to stay, but a place where they could gather, pray and reflect. 

Mr. Fisher said that he and his team chose to take responsibility for fulfilling a need they knew existed.

“It’s so easy to say it should be someone else’s problem,” he said.  “But while you’re doing that, the problem grows.  The need grows.  So we chose to be part of the solution.”

Dispatch from Ali Base–Unnamed Heroes

This week, we welcome 1st Lieutenant Korry Leverett to Air Force Live. 1stLt Leverett is replacing Master Sergeant Russ Petcoff as our voice from Ali Base, Iraq. MSgt Petcoff’s deployment is over and he has returned back to the D.C. area. We’d like to give a huge thanks to MSgt Petcoff for giving us some insight into deployed life and sharing the stories of the men and women serving at Ali Base.  1stLt Leverett joins us with a somber reminder of the ongoing dangers and fight in the deployed zones and a tribute to those who do not make it back home.

Unnamed Heroes
By 1st Lt. Korry Leverett
407th Air Expeditionary Group Public Affairs

Recently I made the journey from Malmstrom AFB in Great Falls, Mont., to Ali Base, Iraq.  It was a lengthy process to say the least but upon arrival I became privy to all the amazing things Airmen are doing in the 120 degree heat, day and night.  As impressed as I was, and still am, I was swiftly reminded of the serious nature of the business we are in and the toll it takes on the men and women who sacrifice so much for our nation.

As evening approached and moonlight filled the sky at Ali Base, Iraq, 20 or so Airmen and Soldiers gathered at the tail end of a C-130 Hercules to pay their respects to three soldiers who had been killed the night before.  It was one of the most gut wrenching events of our short lives but we knew it had to be done.  Lining both sides of the aircraft in preparation for the transfer my heart raced.  The mood was somber and silence filled the night sky.  I didn’t know what to expect of myself and even more importantly I did not know what to expect of two of my young Airmen that were there with me.

“I need you two now,” said Chief Master Sgt. Gerald Delebreau, superintendent for the 407th Air Expeditionary Group at Ali Base, Iraq.  He was looking straight at my Airmen and requesting their immediate assistance with the transfer.  I could see they were a little surprised but they did not hesitate.  They had just been asked to assist in the transfer of a fallen comrade … no questions asked, they were there to support.

As the vehicle backed up to the procession and the transfer team began to unload the flag draped caskets our detail was called to attention and the order to present arms was given.  We stood eye to eye at attention, saluting as the team passed in front of us three times.  We were doing everything we could to pay the proper respect to those who paid the ultimate price.

As the procession ended and the detail was dismissed I could see out of the corner of my eye a large group of Airmen, many of whom worked on the flightline, off in the distance standing at attention.  I was moved by their presence … they had made every effort to cease operations for even just a moment in time to pay their respect.

As we drove back to our CHU (compartmentalized housing unit) late that evening neither my Airmen nor I could say a word.  I could tell they were deeply moved by the event and found out the next morning that neither slept well that evening.

We had no idea who the fallen soldiers were we just knew that we had to take a moment in time to honor those who sacrificed so much.  Though they were nameless to us they will live forever in our minds as American heroes.