Heavy lifting in today’s military

DOBBINS AIR RESERVE BASE, Ga. -- Our country just celebrated Memorial Day on May 25, and this month are celebrating Independence Day on the 4th of July. Sandwiched in between these two significant holidays, the 94th Airlift Wing deployed one aircraft, along with maintenance and operations personnel, to participate in Operation Airdrop Warrior at Royal Air Force Lyneham Air Base, England, and the D-day reenactment in Normandy, France.

Each location provided us with opportunities to experience firsthand the meaning of heroes sacrificing for the greater good.

As destiny would have it, our arrival time at RAF Lyneham AB, coincided with a British repatriation ceremony for two of their fallen heroes. Both young men gave their lives while fighting in Afghanistan.

All movement on the base ceased while a massive Royal Air Force C-17 landed and the bodies of two young British servicemen were nobly removed from the aircraft and transported to the base chapel for a ceremony with the deceased service members' families. Having just arrived, we were ushered into a small RAF snack bar facility while the ceremony took place.

When we were given the word that the bodies of the deceased were departing the base, we went outside and lined up on the side of the road. As the Hearse vehicles passed by, our 1st Sergeant, Senior Master Sgt. Chad Ronnebaum, called us to attention and commanded "present arms." Everyone saluted the fallen warriors, and after the vehicles passed, we were dismissed to leave the base and check into our billeting in the town of Swindon.

On most deployments touching down in a foreign land is exciting; however, this time was unusual, and the pleasure was replaced by a sense of melancholy for the families of the departed.

A few days later we arrived in Normandy, France. While there, most of us took some time and drove to the American cemetery in Normandy. Somber does not begin to explain the emotion that comes over you when you enter into the cemetery and see the rows upon rows of immaculate grave markers spelling out in white marble the incredible sacrifice that thousands of your fellow countrymen made to free the world from tyranny and oppression 65 years ago.

After visiting the cemetery we took a tour of the museum and watched film footage of the D-day landing. The adversity that our countrymen endured on the beaches of France is incalculable. Sadly, they are too often forgotten and remembered only on holidays.

Upon my return to Dobbins ARB, I took some time to reflect on the repatriation ceremony in England and the cemetery at Normandy. The thing that struck me the hardest was the age of a large percentage of the fallen, both in today's War on Terror and during World War II. Both of the British soldiers who perished in Afghanistan were very young. In Normandy I walked down a few cemetery rows and took notice of the ranks and dates of birth of those who fell on the Normandy beach in June 1944.
The majority were junior enlisted and in their late teens or early twenties. All of us know that young people fight our nation's wars, but to experience the concept twice in such solemn ways brought the point home with much more impact than just reading statistics in a newspaper or seeing it on the evening news.

With Memorial Day still in our rear view mirror and July 4th upon us I encourage those of you in the senior enlisted and officer grades to keep in mind who actually does the heavy lifting in today's military. Just as in past wars, in almost every case it is the airman and mid-level non-commissioned officers that make the mission happen. The higher we get up the rank structure the easier it is to overlook who protects our nation's freedom. From dining facilities to the flight line, the tasks that eventually result in an aircraft putting bombs on a target or airdropping critical supplies to our warriors on the ground are accomplished by young Americans who ultimately bear the brunt of carrying out our nation's defense policy.

Too often their sacrifices go unnoticed and other than a paycheck, unrewarded.

It is the job of senior NCOs, officers and 1st sergeants to make sure that our most valuable assets are provided an opportunity to succeed and that their success is acknowledged.

Instead of joining a club of like minded individuals and grousing about the state of the military, take the time to put your troops in for an award or decoration. When you write an EPR get some input from the member and then spell out in detail what they did that resulted in mission accomplishment.

Say yes when a unit member wants to attend a worthwhile school or conference. Encourage them to deploy even though it may leave you shorthanded at home station.

Finally, and most importantly, set the example. Do your best on the fitness test, attend their professional military education graduations, and quit focusing on metrics and focus on getting your troops ready for the day when they will be the ones counting on the next generation to fly, fight and win our nation's battles.