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14th ASOS makes time for war vets

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Mindy Bloem
  • 43rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs
War veterans are an integral part of our military history. Their stories are part of a carefully constructed fabric woven into the culture of our lives. Many of us take time to reflect on their achievements during nationally designated holidays, but how many of us really take the time think about them when not be reminded by our calendars. 

Four Tactical Air Control Party members of the 14th Air Support Operations Squadron visited a veteran's discussion group March 11 at the Lee Enrichment Center in Sanford to discuss their job duties and provide feedback on any questions the group had for them. 

Prior to the meeting, the group's coordinator, retired Air Force veteran Walter Perry, treated the visiting Pope members to lunch at a local Sanford restaurant where he talked about his various experiences during his time in the military. 

The veterans, most of whom had prior combat experience in World War II, the Korean War or the Vietnam War, listened as each TACP Airman spoke about their military experience from his own unique perspective. The veterans expressed interest in what each Airman had to say and even asked the TACPs questions about BRAC, the new Air Force uniforms and the Global War on Terrorism, among other topics. 

Among this elite group of veterans sat a former Marine, Rex McLeod, who saw action in the Battle of Iwo Jima during WWII. He had only two brothers, who were both killed in action, and he himself suffered several bullet wounds while providing security to our forces that were up on the hill raising the American flag now immortalized in the iconic picture taken during that fight. 

For these visiting "battlefield Airmen" of the 14th ASOS, each of them relished the chance to be among such a distinguished group of war heroes. 

"When I talked to some of them, I tried to get them to elaborate on their experiences, but they were very humble about it all and acted as if it was no big deal," Master Sgt. Ryan Knight, 14th ASOS, said. "To them, they did what they had to do. They look at other generations as the greatest generation; whereas, we look at them as the greatest generation. They see us as the future generation and want to know more about what we are doing today versus their reflecting upon what they did. To me it was kind of frustrating at times because I kept trying to get them to talk about their stories, but they kept on switching the bait and would get me talking again." 

Staff Sgt. Cody Schreck, 14 ASOS, said "It's fascinating to hear war stories from their time. It's completely different than it used to be. Rules of Engagement have changed, weapons technology - it's a completely different fight today, so it's interesting to hear their point of view." 

"I can't wait to hear what they have to say about their war time experiences," said Airman 1st Class Nicholas Alwan, 14th ASOS. "You can learn a lot from your elders if you listen to them. We have what we have today because of them. We owe them a lot of gratitude, and I think listening to what they have to say will enhance my own perspective on things." 

Before standing up to speak, Sergeant Knight acknowledged the sacrifices that the veterans seated in the audience had made for the generations following him. 

"I would not be here today without you," he said to the veterans' discussion group. "You guys are the ones who have fought for us and have given us the right to be here talking to you today." 

The TACPs talked about their role in the war and explained just how important their job is to the fight. TACPs are airpower experts and use their expertise to communicate with Army leadership about available assets in order to provide mission success. Their unique set of skills allows them to communicate with the aircraft to ensure bombs are put on target with utmost accuracy during firefights. Their airpower expertise makes them an essential commodity to the war effort. 

"We bring more fire power to the battlefield than a whole battalion of tanks," Sergeant Schreck said. 

Sergeant Schreck went on to explain how strong the bond between fellow servicemembers is and how he cannot picture himself getting out of the military yet because he doesn't want to give up that brotherhood. 

One of the veterans sitting in the audience thanked the members of the 14th ASOS for all they do and quipped that he was glad they had not brought any recruiters with them. 

A.K. Griffin, an Army veteran who fought in Vietnam, also enjoyed what the TACPs had to say to his group. 

"I loved it," he said. "I like to hear about what is actually happening on the ground. Today we heard from guys who are involved in the thick of the fight. It was fascinating to me to know how they're actually handling all of that air control and hearing their stories. 

Before the end of the group's meeting, the TACPs expressed their gratitude to the group of courageous trailblazers. 

"I cannot begin to thank you enough for what you've done," Sergeant Schreck said. "You have paved the way for all of us. It's given me a lot of pride doing what I do, knowing you were there before me."