Tag Archives: U.S. Air Force

Veterans Day: reflecting on service, Air Force Memorial

By Tech. Sgt. Karen J. Tomasik
Air Force Public Affairs Agency

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)

Our veterans, my heroes

By Col. George Farfour
90th Missile Wing vice commander

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.

Medical assistance to Libya

 

By Tech. Sgt. Karen J. Tomasik
Air Force Public Affairs Agency

The U.S. Department of State requested assistance in evacuating wounded Libyan fighters to medical facilities outside the country that could treat their injuries. See additional information in the photo caption below and see additional photos here. We’ll be updating the set as more imagery from the mission becomes available.

Photo: Airmen from the 86th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron and a Critical Care Air Transport team from Landstuhl Regional Medical Center unload wounded Libyan fighters from a U.S. Air Force C-130J Hercules cargo aircraft Oct. 29, 2011, at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. At the request of the Department of State and directed by the Secretary of Defense, U.S. Africa Command is supporting U.S. and international humanitarian relief efforts in Libya. Specifically, the U.S. military transported four wounded Libyans for treatment in medical facilities in Europe and 28 to facilities in the United States.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Chenzira Mallory)

Never stop trying

By Master Sgt. Sonya L. Couture
438th Air Expeditionary Wing

As Sept. 11 approaches, I find myself once again in Afghanistan – this time for a year. This mission is different from the last. Instead of supporting missions to “seek out and destroy the enemy,” I am here to train members of the Afghan Air Force on how to do my job, Aircrew Flight Equipment. I’m also teaching them how to manage their people and resources as well as how to solve problems on their own. I assure you, it’s not an easy task with their lack of classroom education and cultural differences.

Thinking back on where I was and what I was doing on 9/11, I’m reminded of the pain and anger I felt at such a senseless act. On 9/11, I saw every one of “them” as the enemy. My anger was boiling over and I wanted all of them eradicated from this earth. I’m sure many others felt the same way as they watched the horrors unfold on the news, replayed repeatedly. What came to mind later as I calmed down were the millions of innocent men, women and children who had nothing to do with these acts of terrorism. I slowly began to realize that 9/11 was not the work of all the people who are Muslim or from the Middle East, but the work of small extremist groups. I reserved my anger for the ones responsible, the factions and groups of extremist Muslims who hate Americans and wish to see us die. I consciously decided it was not right to judge them all on the actions of a few.

However, on April 27 this year, nine of my friends and coworkers were killed by one of the Afghans we were training. It was by far the single, most horrifying experience of my life. My reaction of rage and disbelief was very similar to my feelings on 9/11. I felt an overwhelming anger that sickened me. Why did my friends have to die so senselessly? I felt myself looking at every Afghan I saw with pure hatred.

After the shootings, I struggled to regain my enthusiasm for what I was doing here. How could I help these people, not knowing if their secret agenda was to kill me? On my first day back to work it was clear that “my” Afghans had no such intentions toward me. The sadness and pain in their eyes told me what I needed to know. They feared I would hate them for their fellow comrade’s actions and decide to no longer help them. As much as I wanted to, I couldn’t hold it against them. These men didn’t kill my friends. They were trying their best to do what any of us would want; to make a better life for themselves, their family and their country.

Weeks later during a conversation with my Afghan interpreter, I asked him if he thought his country would ever be able to get rid of the Taliban, Al-Qaeda and the war lords who ravage the country. Were we here for nothing, wasting our time and money? He asked me if the U.S. has ever been able to get rid of all its “bad guys”; those who rob, rape, and murder?

“No”, I said. “Of course not, but we will always keep trying to make it better.”
“That’s all we are trying to do as well,” he responded. His simple statement stuck with me. They should have the chance to try and make a better world for themselves, for the good men who are weak to become strong and capable of fighting the evil men.

I see the innocent children smiling and waving excitedly giving us the “thumbs up” as we convoy down the dirty streets of Kabul. We are hope to them and their future. I visit injured children in the hospital and absorb some of their positive, radiant energy they each have despite their injuries and constant struggles. These kids deserve to have a better life. The men I am training are trying to make this a better place for their families, the same thing we strive for every day and I am proud to be a part of it.

On Sept. 11, on an Afghan Air Force base, we will be reading the names of the 3,000-plus victims who died on that day and raising our flag in their honor. Who would have ever thought we would get to this point? As we pay tribute and honor to those who lost their lives on that day, let us not forget how blessed we are to be citizens of the United States. It is by the grace of God that we did not find ourselves born into a country such as Afghanistan where life is harder and more uncertain than we could ever imagine.

In February next year, I will be on my way home to my family. I will leave this country behind and wish them well in their endeavors to become a better, stronger country. Nothing can change what happened on Sept. 11, 2001, nor bring back the loved ones, family and friends who were lost then or during the war that followed. All we can do is continue to honor their memory, to never forget and to keep fighting for something more; a better world so this never happens again. We will never be able to wipe out all of the “bad guys” in this world….but that doesn’t mean we should ever stop trying.

Security Forces 9/11 Ruck March to Remember: Team Hurlburt

By Tech. Sgt. Chad M. Reemtsma
1st Special Operations Security Forces Squadron

We started with a sense of pride in the fact that there were only four of us doing what other bases were using four or five times the amount of members we had to accomplish the ruck march. We finished deeply humbled by the supporters’ sincere appreciation of the statement we were taking part in.

Tech. Sgt. Dance volunteered his personally owned vehicle as our transportation due to it having the most practical amount of space for our needs.

We departed July 28, 2011, at around 4:30 a.m. We met Team Columbus at noon at State Police Troop M, east of Brookhaven, Miss. Senior Airman Allen Buning and I took the first leg. We developed a 30 minute ruck / 1.5 hour down time schedule that worked out very well.

At roughly 6 p.m. Staff Sgt. McQuiggin and I brought our team into Monticello, Miss. We were greeted by the town with an escort and supporters on the street led by retired Master Sgt. Tim Lea of VFW Post #4889. The post let us stay the night at the Monticello Baptist Church and the Ladies Auxiliary cooked us dinner and let us use the showers.

At 5:30 a.m. we set out From Monticello, Miss., headed east toward Collins, Miss., and beyond. Around 2 p.m. Tech. Sgt. Dance brought us into Collins and it seemed like the whole town was on Main Street. Fire trucks blocked the side roads as we were led in by the Collins Police Department and the rear was brought up by Covington County who had been with us since Prentiss, Miss. The Collins city mayor was on main street and greeted us with city pins and handshakes. By 6 p.m. July 29 we made it 44 miles. We passed Collins, so we backtracked and headed into town to meet the residents of the Collins VA home. We also met James Sanford and his fellow supporters from the Veterans Outreach organization.

Heading out again at 5:30 in the morning we set out from our stopping point east of Collins toward Laurel, Miss. Around 10:30 a.m. we arrived in Laurel and received escort from the Laurel Police Department and fire dept. They escorted us to Laurel’s Veterans Memorial Museum where all members of the community were represented, from veterans to young people wanting to join the military as well as community leaders. We pressed on and made it several miles out of town before we quit for the night and headed back to Laurel for dinner, showers and lodging. The showers and lodging were provided by the Laurel Police Department, at their police training center located next to the Veterans Memorial Museum. We were treated to dinner by Laurel’s Fraternal Order of Police and the police chief.

We set out from east of Laurel at 5:30 a.m. and headed for our final destination in Bolinger/Silas, Ala. We met that deadline around 5:30 p.m. and headed back to the Waynesboro Fire Dept for the night. Waynesboro had some folks come to meet us and set us up with showers, a place to stay and a great barbecue dinner.

We slept in Aug. 1 and rendezvoused with the Tyndall Air Force Base team at around 10:30 a.m. and organized a change over ceremony and then hit the road and headed home.

Photo: (from left ro right) Staff Sgt. Michael McQuiggin, Senior Airman Allen Buning, Tech. Sgt. Daniel Dance and Tech. Sgt. Chad Reemtsma line up with their squadron’s guidon before heading out for their leg of the ruck march. The previous photo was removed due to some uniform items not being within regulations.