Saluting those 'Above All' Airmen
By Tech. Sgt. Scott T. Sturkol, U.S. Air Force Expeditionary Center Public Affairs
/ Published May 02, 2008
FORT DIX, N.J. --
As I was standing on stage in the U.S. Air Force Expeditionary Center's Grace Peterson Hall before 90 of the toughest Airmen you'll ever meet. Midway through talking to them, I had the realization dawn on me that these Airmen were soon heading off to war.
It's not an unusual thing to think about at the USAF EC, because it's fairly normal for deploying Airmen to be a large part of our student population. The realization I had, however, solidified the high appreciation I have for these deploying heroes and for all Airmen.
The "toughest Airmen" I mention are Air Force security forces and the class I was teaching is titled Strategic Communication. I teach the course fairly often to non-public affairs students who traverse the halls of the Center and I give them an idea how to deal with the media while deployed and keys to succeeding with strategic communication.
On that day in mid-April, I went through my class in the normal hour allotted, but I felt like I missed a salute to these brave men and women who would soon be in harm's way. Ever since, I've mostly thought of them as "Above All" Airmen. Being security forces Airmen who are highly trained in subjects such as tactics, convoy operations and military operations in urban terrain, they are the style of Airmen who fit the new Air Force slogan.
According to Col. Michael Caldwell, deputy director of Air Force public affairs at the Pentagon, he said, "The new slogan is admittedly a bold one, but so are Airmen."
Colonel Caldwell discussed the slogan in a Feb. 20 Air Force News story and he pointed out how "this campaign accurately portrays Airmen and how they're executing the Air Force mission to ensure the security and safety of America now and in the future."
I agree with that sentiment and had a sturdy reminder of that with the 90 security forces Airmen I was teaching. They exuded "Above All."
For nearly three years I've been with USAF EC teaching in courses such as Air Force Exercise Eagle Flag, Advanced Contingency Skills Training and others. During those years, I've noticed a lot of changes in not only the training Airmen receive before they deploy, but in the missions Airmen accomplish once they deploy.
Security forces are a perfect example of how much more the Air Force is doing as warfighters. During my first major deployment to Southwest Asia in the fall of 1997, the security forces I served with were just as tough, but their mission was mainly force protection and airbase ground defense. The mission was much the same they'd been doing for decades and they really didn't go "outside the wire." Now, that has all changed.
Ever since Operation Enduring Freedom began in 2001 and Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, the type of presence the Air Force has in theater-- security forces included -- is noticeably different. I learned that first hand on deployments that took me to Iraq and Afghanistan in 2003 and 2005.
Security forces Airmen, for example, now continuously go "outside the wire" and still complete the traditional missions of force protection and airbase ground defense. They coordinate convoys, participate in mounted and dismounted patrols plus many other non-traditional missions. And they aren't the only ones. There are also aerial porters, information managers, maintenance, communications and even the occasional public affairs Airman. It's across the board.
When I sit in the regular staff meetings with USAF EC leadership, the commander, Maj. Gen. Kip Self, often reads the slides of deployed Airmen and says to everyone, "These are our American heroes." He's right. They are heroes and additionally I say they are "Above All" heroes.
We can look at the new Air Force campaign as more than a recruiting campaign - see it as an embodiment of what the Air Force stands for in it's top resource, it's people. Whether it's security forces Airmen deploying to Iraq, a combat photographer capturing the mission in Afghanistan, a tanker pilot flying over the skies of Southwest Asia, or the Airman managing personnel files at the military personnel flight, we should discover within ourselves that what we do is not just "Above All," but also "above and beyond" what we've traditionally done.
As Colonel Caldwell said, the new slogan is as bold as the Airmen it talks about. I say it loud and I say it proud, we are "Above All," and I salute all Airmen both in harm's way and throughout the world.