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The parade goes on...

WASHINGTON (AFNS) -- I clearly recall the events of Friday, Aug. 14, 2009. It was a memorable day in grand proportions, a day worthy of sharing with past, present and future Airmen. I had the great fortune and honor to attend back-to-back ceremonies unique to the military profession.

The day began at the Lackland Air Force Base parade ground on a sultry summer day in San Antonio. It was a special day, a day to celebrate. It was a day to congratulate 753 Basic Military Trainee graduates, our Air Force's newest Airmen.

Flags were blowing in the breeze, sounds of drums dictated cadence. The training instructors, or TIs, looked incredibly sharp leading their graduates: taut blue shirts, the shine on their black leather shoes, the distinctive hats and crisp salutes. As a spectator in the stands, one could feel the TIs' sense of pride...another successful mission.

This would be the last time the TIs led this group of new Airmen, a group they knew inside out. They knew each of the recruit's strengths and weaknesses. They knew how to motivate these trainees. The TIs had given their absolute best to help these new Airmen achieve their goal of "crossing into the blue," joining the Air Force team. The day had come. It was time to finish the race. It was time for one last march on the field.

Bright and promising careers lie ahead, so many amazing stories yet untold. Who will emerge from this group to join the upper echelons in our Air Force leadership? Who will go onto to finish successful and rewarding careers in our great Air Force? There are no guarantees but each and every one of them has been granted an equal opportunity.

The training instructors are an impressive breed. They are selfless, they understand basic training is not about them, it's all about helping others. They understand their place in history and the enormous importance of what they are charged to do. They have been handed the keys to open the doors for our future Air Force leaders.

The graduation parade was impressive by every conceivable measure. I marveled at the skill of the TIs as they directed precise movements of the troops, columns of blue in rhythm, in sync, in perfect harmony, as one.

Thousands of family members filled the spectator stands beaming with pride as their sons and daughters marched by. You could feel the excitement and enthusiasm of our new Airmen ready to move on, ready to begin their next chapter as they headed off to their next training destination. Eight weeks of training was complete...the end result of taking raw recruits and shaping, molding them into Airmen.

At the conclusion of the parade, it was time for my next event.
Next up was a retirement ceremony for a lieutenant colonel completing a 21-year career of distinction and honor in service to one's nation. There were tears, moments of laughter and praise. There were awkward moments of silence as the officer tried to regain composure. This was tough, a time to transition from having completed the journey but not quite ready to put the uniform away.

I could feel the individual's internal struggle to end his active duty service. There would be no more change of stations, no more deployments, no more unit compliance inspections or unit physical training sessions.

The officer struggled to keep his emotions in check as he shared his final thoughts on how he felt about his contributions in serving his country. It was heart-breaking; but at the same time, a celebration of yet another American hero, a patriot having sacrificed so much.

As this Airman completed his journey, there were 753 right behind him ready to take the baton, ready to accept the challenge, ready to step up and ensure our next generation continues to enjoy all that this great nation has to offer: freedom and liberty.

You see, there is no beginning, there is no end. What we are talking about is a continuum. Call it a steady march -- the parade goes on. Only the faces and names change.

Fellow Airmen, keep marching and enjoy every step of the journey. And if you ever need a major "dose of blue," make sure you pay a visit to San Antonio. Lackland AFB is a special place. It is the Air Force's gateway. It is the home of that sacred parade field where our heroes of the past have marched and our heroes of tomorrow will join the parade.