Secretary of the Air Force Michael B. Donley Remarks at the Presentation of Campaign Streamers ceremony, Southwest Asia, Aug. 26, 2009
General (Mike) Hostage, thank you for being here. Congratulations on your recent promotion and your new position. You have General Schwartz's and my full confidence as Commander of AFCENT.
It's not only a pleasure to be here, but it's fitting we take this time to honor the men and women of the Air Force who have served in Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and the greater Global War on Terrorism.
The streamers we'll present today are a little bit of history and they will serve as symbols - symbols of our Airmen's service - and they will always remind us of their sacrifice, bravery, and patriotism.
Symbolism has a long history in the military. The use of flags and campaign streamers is rooted in antiquity, when large field armies used them as points and signals to rally their forces in the confusion of battle. The ability to gather forces quickly was critical in large conflicts where thousands of men clashed, often in hand-to-hand fighting on smoke-obscured battlefields. While we no longer use flags for this literal purpose, our flags are still a rallying point, and a symbol of our identity and pride.
Our Air Force flag is a symbol, as are its designs. The flag is blue, representing the sky and the medium in which we operate. The flag's 13 stars represent the 13 original colonies, and the three-star grouping at the top represents the Departments of the Army, Navy, and Air Force. The American Bald Eagle represents the United States and its airpower, while the clouds behind the eagle illustrate the start of a new sky - the Department of the Air Force. The shield bears a golden yellow thunderbolt, with flames representing aerospace striking power.
To this historic flag, we'll now attach streamers in a tradition that we trace back to our Army Air Corps heritage. Shortly after World War I, the U.S. Army became the first American military organization to adopt battle streamers, and awarded these streamers to units that directly supported and engaged in combat operations. The streamers awarded to Air Force units are equivalent to the campaign medals we give our individual Airmen; both designate contributions to theater combat operations. And, because the meaning is the same, the colors are the same.
The first and second streamers we'll present today commemorate our campaign in Afghanistan. The red, black, and green stripes on these two streamers reflect the colors of the new Afghan flag, while the red, white, and blue represent the United States and its allies. "Liberation of Afghanistan" is written on the first ribbon, celebrating the freeing of the Afghan people from a cruel and repressive regime, while the second ribbon reads "Consolidation I 2001-2006," denoting how self-governance and a united country have begun to emerge.
The third, fourth, and fifth streamers mark our campaign in Iraq. These streamers reflect the colors of the Iraqi flag - green: the traditional color of Islam; red: to honor the fighting courage in the pursuit of freedom; white: denoting generosity; and black: exemplifying the success of Islam. The streamers are titled "Liberation of Iraq 2003," "Transition of Iraq 2003-2004," and "Iraqi Governance 2004-2005," all marking Iraq's steady progress from the control of a brutal dictator toward a fledgling democracy.
Finally, the sixth streamer we'll present today represents our campaigns in the larger Global War on Terrorism. This streamer signifies the efforts of our men and women fighting the forces of extremism around the world, whether that means fighting lawless radicals in the Horn of Africa, or insurgents in the Philippines.
These campaign streamers serve as symbols - symbols to help us pay homage to the sacrifice, bravery, and patriotism of our men and women.
These symbols help us honor the sacrifice of men like Tech. Sgt. John Chapman, in places like "Robert's Ridge," Afghanistan. In 2002, Sergeant Chapman was taking part in an audacious raid to insert a special operations team on top of an enemy position during Operation Anaconda. That day, Sergeant Chapman and his team were to be inserted by helicopter, but their helicopter crashed after coming under withering enemy fire. Sergeant Chapman showed incredible skill and exceptional mettle, calling in close-air support to cover his team while they searched for a Navy SEAL who had earlier fallen out of the helicopter. During their search, Sergeant Chapman killed two enemies, then came upon an ambush and a dug-in machine gun position. Enemies fired at his team from three sides. To rush the enemy position, Sergeant Chapman broke cover. He was killed during the attack, but his actions that day allowed the rest of his team to break contact and survive the ambush.
These symbols help us recall the bravery of men like Master Sgt. Michael Keehan III in places like Baghdad. As part of a Joint Terminal Attack Control team, Sergeant Keehan and his team met fierce opposition as they approached the city. At one point, Sergeant Keehan ran through heavy fire to find and mark enemy positions. Under intense fire from T-72 tanks, artillery, and small arms, Sergeant Keehan edged his unit forward. As he had done numerous times in the preceding two weeks during the march to Baghdad, he risked his life to accurately relay enemy positions to Air Force aircraft, which destroyed the enemy and enabled ground forces to continue north.
These symbols help us pay homage to the patriotism of men like Tech. Sgt. Israel Del Toro. Sergeant Del Toro was participating in combat operations in Afghanistan when a roadside bomb blast destroyed his vehicle and set him on fire. Sergeant Del Toro was nearly killed, had burns covering over 80 percent of his body, was comatose for three months, and was given only a 20 percent chance to live. He beat these odds by walking out of the hospital after two long years of painful recovery and rehabilitation. Through it all, DT's love of country and unwavering service ethic has driven him to continue serving as one of our Wounded Warriors, and he now travels the country giving inspirational speeches.
As we reflect on the meaning of these streamers, it's important to note the dates on the streamers - the Afghanistan campaign streamers end at 2006, the Iraq campaign streamers end at 2005, and the GWOT streamer has no date. These campaign streamers are part of our Air Force history - one that is still being written by nearly 40,000 deployed Airmen supporting worldwide operations. Since 2003, this base has been crucial to our operations in the CENTCOM theater, and there is no doubt it will continue to be vital in the years ahead. As this history continues to unfold, I know you will add to these campaign streamers and it is a privilege and honor to serve with you.
Thank you for your service. Let us now present the streamers.