It is significant that as a nation we take a day to reflect on the service and sacrifices of those who have served in the armed forces and to thank those in uniform for their continued devotion to duty.
As we look forward to the parades, ceremonies and celebrations that take place on Veterans Day, I am incredibly proud to have the opportunity to serve alongside each and every one of you. What you do every day and how you do it makes a difference. I was recently reminded of that as over 2,000 fellow airmen came together to celebrate our heritage, acknowledge present-day accomplishments, and prepare for our future at the annual Airlift/Tanker Association Conference.
It was a humbling reminder to be in the presence of the men and women who serve diligently behind the scenes to make our vast and complicated mobility system seamlessly successful. I also stood in grateful appreciation for those who perform heroic acts of service like Medal of Honor recipient and retired colonel Joe M. Jackson, who recounted the events that led to a courageous rescue of Special Forces in Vietnam. This 92-year-old beloved veteran of the Army Air Corps was a pilot during both World War II and the Korean War and was also one of the first airmen to fly the U-2. During Vietnam he flew 298 combat sorties in the C-123, including the death-defying rescue of combat controllers at a Kuam Duc as it was being overrun by the Viet Cong.
There were also stories of airmen persevering in the harshest of conditions, such as retired Lt. Col. Paul Needham. As a captain, he was TDY in Tehran as a logistics officer when taken hostage and held for 444 days in Iran in 1979-80. As he shared the details of his ordeal and how he survived, I admired his insights, his humor, his humility and his courage. In the same presentation, retired Col. Kenneth Poole spoke to the failed hostage rescue attempt. At the time, he was a young navigator on one of the EC-130E refueling aircraft that landed at “Desert One.” He spoke about the decisions and the challenges they faced and how the failed mission began a new chapter for improvements in communications and joint operations. Needham recalled that the single hardest part of the ordeal was not the captivity. It was facing the spouses of the men who lost their lives attempting to rescue him and the other hostages.
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Then there was Maj. Mark Jacobsen, a C-17 pilot working on his PhD in Political Science at Stanford University, who is also the founder of a nonprofit organization, “Uplift Aeronautics,” whose mission is to “create affordable and feasible aeronautical solutions for humanitarian organizations.” One aspect of his work is to create micro-UAVs that can deliver small packets of medical aid to areas that are too “hot” to reach by traditional methods. His ability to balance career, family, a full course load and a non-profit organization was truly amazing. It’s incredible what our Air Force members are doing every day to make the world a better place.
The A/TA conference reminded me once again that every airman has a story to tell. Veterans Day offers a wonderful opportunity to not only honor the stories and legacy of those who came before but also to celebrate each other every day as we come together in big ways and small to lift each other up and get the job done here at Scott Air Force Base and around the globe. This Veterans Day, I salute all those who have worn our nation’s uniform in the past. I salute all of you who wear our nation’s uniform in the present. Most importantly, I thank you for the sacrifices you make and for the inspiration you provide to each other every day. May God bless all of you, your families, our Air Force, and our great nation.
Col. Laura Lenderman is commander of the 375th Air Mobility Wing at Scott Air Force Base.