Tag Archives: honor

Special Tactics Airmen march to honor fallen brothers in arms

151004-F-GV347-021By 1st Lt. Katrina Cheesman, 24th Special Operations Wing

After more than 800 miles on the road, 20 Special Tactics Airmen finished their journey to honor fallen teammates, crossing through the gate here with families of those Special Tactics Airmen killed in combat.

The march was held specifically for Capt. Matthew Roland, special tactics officer, and Staff Sgt. Forrest Sibley, combat controller, who were killed in action, Aug. 26, 2015, Afghanistan.

“These men walked 812 miles, demonstrating to the vast majority of the southern part of America what our country values,” said Lt. Gen. Brad Heithold, commander of Air Force Special Operations Command. “And that’s people who are willing to make sacrifices.”

Special Tactics Airmen honor fallen with memorial marchThe marchers walked day and night through five states to honor the fallen special operators who gave their lives in service to their country, relaying the 812 miles in two-man teams. Continue reading Special Tactics Airmen march to honor fallen brothers in arms

A handshake to remember

By Airman 1st Class Aaron Jenne
4th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

The stress finally started to permeate upon the realization that tomorrow I would come eye to eye with one of the most recognized faces in the world.

I was excited since I first received news Jan. 12 that I would get to see Air Force One land at Raleigh-Durham International Airport and possibly have a chance to shake President Barack Obama’s hand Jan. 15.

I received the honor because I had recently been chosen as Airman of the month, along with two others from my office, as a reward for outstanding performance.

Tuesday night, I tried to watch TV and unwind. Each time I came close to relaxing I remembered one more detail needing preparation for the morning. My anticipation for the next day quickly turned to anxiety.

After a restless night, my wife and I got up at 4 a.m. to prepare for our 6:45 a.m. departure.

We talked all the way to Raleigh. Neither of us could believe that we were going to meet the president.

The doors didn’t open until 9:30 a.m. and we got there early to be at the front of the line.

When the doors opened, we were herded to one end of a staging area. Our group huddled toward the front, waiting excitedly. When security released us to the roped off area on the tarmac, we realized we were actually at the back of the room and were some of the last to exit.

As a photographer, I wanted to be at the front so I could take good photos, not to mention I was selfishly hoping for an opportunity to shake the president’s hand.

Air Force One landed and taxied to it’s final destination. The president’s car pulled up between Air Force One and our waiting area, and I thought he would probably get right into his car without shaking any hands.

I was frustrated. All of the things I had planned for weren’t happening. As my hopes for the day were falling through, Obama rounded his car and made his way toward us and everything changed.

I forgot everything. I wasn’t frustrated anymore, I was just excited. My only thought was trying to get a good picture. Holding the camera over my head I was snapping pictures as fast as the camera would take them.

Obama kept getting closer and I kept bobbing and weaving in an attempt to catch him between the people in front of me. Finally he stood right in front of me. Looking through my lens it looked like there was a lot of room between the two people in front of me.

140115-F-OB680-470Then, he was looking directly at me saying something.

“And how are you doing today?” Obama asked.

I lowered my camera in confusion, surely he wasn’t talking to me, but he was, and as I shook his hand three words just floated out of my mouth with no thought on my part.

“Good. You sir?”

In response as he turned to go to the next person, Obama, my commander in chief, gave me the thumbs up.

Then the moment was over, and the camera was back up. He climbed into his car with one final wave, and the motorcade began its long procession away from the airport.

The rest of the day, I told everyone I interacted with that I just shook the president’s hand. Some people didn’t believe me, most were impressed and excited I had this opportunity.

I shared this story because I was excited to meet my commander in chief. He gave me something to aspire to in my military career. I hope that no matter how high I rise in the ranks, how important my mission is or how tight of a schedule I have, I still take time to brighten someone’s day like the president did for me.

I am happy I had this opportunity. I was impressed Obama took the time to ask me how I was, when my only thought was taking pictures. I know that my wife and I will remember this moment for the rest of our lives.

Honor: the first of four pillars of the USAF Band of the West

120922-F-GN140-0728Senior Airman Daniel N. Thrower
USAF Band of the West

Editor’s note: This is the first part of a four-part series on the pillars of the USAF Band of the West.

An extraordinary thing happened to me recently as I was driving to work. It isn’t uncommon to encounter a homeless person begging at an intersection in San Antonio, and it isn’t unusual for me to rummage through my things to try to find something to offer. That morning I had nothing, so my head and eyes remained straight forward as the man positioned himself between the two lanes of cars to saunter toward us with his cardboard sign. When he spotted my uniform, he stopped, took off his hat and rendered a slow, tentative salute. After I graciously acknowledged, the light changed and my direction of traffic resumed. As I reflected on that somber salute, I found that I had to turn off the radio—that man’s image in my mind tore me up! Even this homeless American recognized the honor of the uniformed services, and what we all collectively do to allow him to be free to supplicate on a street corner.

What we do as Airman musicians, though much more formally, produces similar feelings in those for whom we perform. I never tire of playing the service songs in various concerts, from brass quintet to full concert band, and seeing men and women stand proudly as their song resounds through the air. The enthusiasm is electric, and tears tend to come easily. Patriotic tunes and meaningful messages in songs also instill a deep sense of honor for our great country and the freedoms we enjoy. But of all the millions of notes I have performed in uniform, one “simple” composition consisting of 24 slow notes trumps all: the poignant solo bugle call, “Taps.”

Of course, as a civilian musician for many years before joining the Air Force, I was able to play Taps on many different occasions. But, to perform it in uniform in an official capacity, fulfilled a childhood dream I harbored since I was a Boy Scout.

I’ll never forget playing for my first active-duty funeral in uniform. Joining 23 honor guard members from Randolph Air Force Base, we rehearsed the honors a couple of times before patiently waiting for several hours for the family and friends to arrive from the funeral service. We were given a 20-minute heads-up to get in our places. As people began to arrive, I stood at attention with as little motion as possible. The mosquitoes were terrible, and I felt one land on my cheek as I heard my MTI’s voice echoing from the not-too-distant past, “You don’t move at the position of attention!”

The flag-covered casket was extracted from the hearse and a lump formed in my throat. This was real! I absorbed all the details I could without moving my head: the unison steps of the honor guard pallbearers, the color guard’s call to attention, the firing team’s well-rehearsed movements to my left, etc. The seven riflemen fired three volleys, and after the last volley, I slowly raised my trumpet and sounded the military swansong—the final farewell to this Senior Airman whose name I never did learn. To me, this became the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, so to speak. My attention to detail in every note’s length and dynamic, the precise moments of vibrato, the drawn out decay of the final note, the deliberate final salute with my white-gloved hand, all were calculated to honor him by saying, in essence, “Thank you for your service.” I am confident that if he were there, he would have graciously accepted that honorable tribute on behalf of all who serve, have served and especially the millions who paid the ultimate sacrifice so I can freely sit here and write this without fear.

PHOTO: Senior Airman Daniel Thrower, USAF Band of the West bugler, performs “Taps” for Memorial Day at the Texas State Cemetary in Austin, Texas, May 27, 2013. (Courtesy photo)

Week in Photos, Nov. 16, 2012

By Staff Sgt. Amanda Dick
Air Force Public Affairs Agency

From remembering the fallen to honoring the deployed, this Week in Photos is nothing if not dignified.

PHOTO: Tech. Sgt. Sara Bauer and Staff Sgt. Felipe Mendoza help each other place flags above the graves of deceased U.S. military members at the Veterans Memorial Park, Bluffdale, Utah, Nov. 9, 2012. A group of volunteers from Hill Air Force Base helped the Memorial Park’s staff place flags by over 4,300 deceased U.S. military members’ graves. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Tiffany DeNault)

Air Force chaplain faces unique challenges

Chaplain (Capt.) Christian L. Williams

By Chaplain (Capt.) Christian LaPaul Williams

Arlington National Cemetery, Va

When I first heard of Arlington National Cemetery I immediately thought of honoring veterans and fallen comrades. I didn’t realize the true significance of my role in comforting their families as well. Also, I didn’t comprehend how challenging that would be.

Sure, as a chaplain I believed that I was capable of speaking with and providing comfort to the families. I’m certainly able to highlight the sacrifices of the veterans and active duty members for the just cause of freedom. I also know how to comfort the families with the knowledge that the Air Force is their extended family.

But one day I performed a service that challenged me in a way that I had never been challenged before.

I was assigned to a service that required me to give a committal for a stillborn baby boy, whose father was an active duty member. He and his wife had three other children who were 8 years old, 6 years old, and 18 months old.

I contacted the family to extend my condolences and see if there was any information that they might want me to share at the committal. The parents only had one request – to make the committal service kid friendly. I pondered how to fulfill this unique request.

I began to conduct research, to no avail. Then it dawned on me that I needed to go back to my foundation, which is my faith. I prayed and asked God to help me to minister to this family, particularly their children.

My faith in God, through my answered prayer, gave me what I needed to minister to this family. I kneeled down in front of the children at the service, and asked them to tell me their favorite character. The oldest told me “a princess.” The middle child said “Star Wars.” The youngest pointed to an iPhone with a picture of Elmo on the screen and said “Elmo.”

The two oldest children, at my urging, then gave me more specific names of their heroes as it relates to these characters.

Afterwards, I pointed to the white marble stones surrounding the gravesite and explained that the stones represented our nation’s heroes.

I told them we were there on that day to honor another hero. I asked them if they knew to whom I was referring and the 8 year old, with tears rolling down her red cheeks, said “my brother.” I agreed with her, and told them that heroes always showed up when they were needed, and that their brother was watching over them.

With my voice cracking and full of emotion I said that their brother will always remain in their hearts and whenever they needed him – their hero – would always show up. The family and I then grabbed hands and prayed as I gave the final committal of their stillborn child.

This ministry opportunity has changed my life forever. Now, I fully understand my mission. I am humbled and proud to serve on the sacred grounds of Arlington National Cemetery.

Photo: Chaplain (Capt.) Christian L. Williams is one of the chaplains representing the military services responsible for honoring those who are laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery, Va. Another major role is to comfort and assist the families of those service members buried at the nation’s largest national cemetery. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Christopher M. Ruano)