There is a part of our honors ceremony that is most profound to me - the most profound 3 seconds of my day. It comes after I have presented the flag to the next of kin, and having risen, look down at them and execute a 3 second salute of that very flag in honor of their loved one's service to our nation.
Every salute, the same motion, the same honor - but a unique family, a unique pair of eyes that I look into, a unique story, a unique contribution.
Last weekend I traveled with our honor guard to Pennsylvania to pay that honor to young man who lost his life in Iraq. Irwin PA is a beautiful town full of beautiful patriotic people. All over town the flags were at half staff. Members of the Patriot Guard came from all over to pay tribute as well. Local law enforcement and fire were out in force. It was a cold crisp day and I am very proud of the job done by the young men and women of the Air Force honor guard. They were precise and incredible. I was honored to stand by their side to conduct the graveside services. After the service I stopped to grab a cup of hot coffee to warm up at a local convenience store. Still in uniform, I had a number of people approach and thank me for the service our team rendered. I was very moved by their loving words of support not just for the family but also for the troops and airmen who remain fighting the war. Sometimes I wonder if our people really get this war, what it is about, why it has to be fought, and why it has to be won. But I'm convinced the people I talked to in this small town get it.
Last Tuesday, I conducted graveside services for for another young man, whose family had come to Arlington to bury him here in these fields of honor. He died in the same blast as the man I buried on Saturday. He made the same sacrifice. Once again, it was a profound honor to serve his wife and children, to serve his fellow airmen who grieved his loss. I read with deep appreciation a comment the man himself had made not long before his death about the importance of his service and the job he was doing and how the tide turning and we are winning. I journeyed to Andrews for the funeral and rode back with the family in a motorcade to Arlington. Here too law enforcement had turned out in mass, the thin blue line showing tribute to one of their own who happened to serve in the military.
That is one of the big things I like about the Air Force. We are professional. We are good at what we do. We get the job done. He know about -- we live integrity, honor, excellence, service. But we are also family. We surround one another and care for one another. I shared with both families that today or years from now, if they need us to reach to us - their Air Force family - because we will not forget. And we will not fail.
These days I remind myself quite often when I listen to the news and comments of some various folks, the works of Rocky Balboa in the latest installment of the Rocky series: "It's not about how hard you can hit... It's about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward... that's how winning is done."
pacis ex victoria