Air Force secretary honors AETC heroes

  • Published
  • By Capt. John Severns
  • Air Education and Training Command Public Affairs
Nearly one thousand Airmen from across the command gathered here Friday to hear Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley during the Air Education and Training Command Ball.

The ball, the largest formal event hosted by the command, concluded the AETC Symposium and Exposition. More than 3,500 Airmen, civilians, civic leaders, sister-service members and foreign officials gathered here for the two-day event.

The ball's theme was celebrating AETC heroes, said Lt. Gen. (Ret.) John D. Hopper Jr., the former AETC vice commander.

Six heroes, chosen by command officials for their courage, quick thinking and selflessness, were featured in a series of video vignettes that highlighted their life-saving actions.

One of the heroes, Staff Sgt. Deante Brooks, was selected for his bravery during an attack on Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, in 2010. Sergeant Brooks, a security forces Airman from Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., helped repel the initial attack, drove through enemy fire to get a wounded comrade to the base hospital, and then returned to the wire to continue fighting for several hours. His story is featured in the Air Force publication, "Profiles in Courage."

Airmen like Sergeant Brooks represent the thousands of unsung heroes throughout the command, General Hopper said.

The highlight of the evening was a speech by Secretary Donley, who spoke about the vital role Airmen play in our national defense.

"To talk about our Air Force is to talk about heroes," Secretary Donley said. "Many will claim that heroes save lives. True enough. We've heard stories of that this evening, and no one would argue the point. We honor the individuals tonight who've done exactly that.

"But in our Air Force, we're surrounded by everyday heroes," he added. "The word 'hero' is Greek for 'protector' or 'defender,' and each Airman in our Air Force has taken an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States, so it sounds to me like you're defenders, which is English for that Greek word 'heroes.'"

The secretary said it takes an entire Air Force to accomplish even the smallest mission, and illustrated his point by describing the chain of support necessary for a fighter pilot to provide air cover to troops on the ground in Afghanistan.

"At this very moment, Col. Scott Long is piloting an F-16 Falcon over Afghanistan, where American Soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division, in Task Force Panther, may come in contact with the enemy tonight," Secretary Donley said.

Supporting Colonel Long was his wingman, flying alongside him, the secretary pointed out. And enabling both fliers were maintainers, munitions specialists, life-support crewmembers, fuels troops, crew chiefs, communications specialists, air-traffic controllers, civil engineers and finance officers, to name a few.

Without these Airmen, whom the secretary named one-by-one, Colonel Long would be unable to provide support to the Joint Tactical Air Controller on the ground embedded with the Soldiers of the 101st Airborne, Secretary Donley said.

"We are blessed as a nation, as an Air Force, to have so many heroes in our ranks," the secretary said. "Every Airman depends on every other Airman to accomplish important missions. All of whom will affect the outcome; all of whom are heroes, in that they too are part of the defense of our great nation and what America stands for."

Gen. Edward A. Rice Jr., the AETC commander, concluded the evening's festivities by thanking the assembled Airmen for attending the symposium and ball.

More important than attendance, he said, was that the audience use what it saw and actively learned over the past two days to improve the Air Force.

"Take what we learned these past two days, and go out and use it to make a difference," he said.