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Veterans: Our Lasting Heritage

SAF/PA 2007 Air Force Public Affairs

Veterans Day, 2007

Courage, character, commitment, compassion. These are the attributes we admire when we honor our nation's veterans. 

This is our 54th Veteran's Day, during which we honor the men and women who - with love and respect for this great country - carried themselves as swords and shields for America and who kept war from reaching our front door. Men and women who have endured the worst in times of war, so we here in the United States of America can live and work in peace. 

In a letter to those who served honorably in World War II, President Harry S. Truman encapsulated the unwavering character of our veterans, writing, "As one of the Nation's finest, you undertook the most severe task one can be called upon to perform. Because you demonstrated the fortitude, resourcefulness and calm judgment necessary to carry out that task, we now look to you for leadership and example in further exalting our country in peace. " 

Our veterans are the reason our children can live as children without being stripped of their innocence by extremist organizations. Our veterans are the torchbearers of freedom and democracy. Our veterans are our loved ones who have sworn to protect this nation against all enemies, foreign and domestic. 

For these reasons, we honor our veterans. Veterans like Air Force Captain Scott Markle. Captain Markle received the Clarence Mackay Trophy during a ceremony in Washington D.C. Oct. 29 for his actions while deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Captain Markle, an A-10 pilot, directly engaged a group of Taliban fighters June 16, 2006, who were in combat against a 15-person special forces team. The special forces team was able to escape with no casualties. Captain Markle was credited with destroying three machine gun nests and killing 40 enemy combatants. Receiving the Mackay Trophy put Captain Markle in the company of other veterans who are air power legends. Veterans like Hap Arnold, Eddie Rickenbacker, Jimmy Doolittle and Chuck Yeager. 

Veterans laid the foundation for today's Air Force. We build and grow upon this foundation in order to continue in the tradition of the legacy we've inherited. Sixty years ago--President Harry Truman set the wheels in motion that directed the establishment of the United States Air Force. It was move that changed military culture. It was a move that put airpower in its proper place--as the preeminent purveyor of the high ground in fighting America's wars. 

For the past 60 years, Airmen have continued to demonstrate the vital role they play in joint operations around the world. America's Airmen have been at war for more than 16 years straight - beginning with maintaining two no-fly zones over Iraq during Operations Desert Storm/Desert Shield and continuing with the war in Bosnia. Today, as I speak, 35,000 Airmen are deployed fighting the global war on terror and more than 200,000 Airmen fulfill important missions for our combatant commanders around the globe. Airmen - reservists, guardsmen, active duty and Air Force civilians - continue to fight on all fronts in the war on terror. From the mountains in Afghanistan calling in precision air strikes and dropping relief supplies on postage-stamp landing zones, to the deserts and villages of Iraq, to the skies over our own country - veterans, on the ground and in the air, ensure our nation's freedoms and way of life. 

Airmen, like Major Keith Wolak and Technical Sergeant Israel Del Toro, who exemplify the contribution of our Air Force in the joint fight. Major Wolak coordinated 17 aircraft within 16 square miles in the search for the lone surviving member of a Navy SEAL Team downed near the eastern border of Afghanistan. The major provided close air support at very low levels in cloudy skies over an unpredictable mountainous landscape. Discovering the petty officer was surrounded by enemy positions on all sides, Major Wolak led the attack, while experiencing equipment malfunction, unleashing 30-millimeter rounds from his aircraft's Gatling gun to destroy Taliban positions on the mountainsides. For his courageous actions, this heroic Airman was recently awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. 

Sergeant Del Toro was on patrol in Afghanistan as the only Air Force tactical air control party member with a scout team supporting two Army companies. The team tracked a group of Taliban that escaped into a nearby town. Lured into a surprise attack, an explosion rocked the team and hit the left side Sergeant Del Toro's Humvee. The blast engulfed him in flames and suffocating clouds of smoke. The sergeant rolled on the ground and tried to put the fire out, but that wasn't enough, so he ran to a nearby river to extinguish the flames completely. After that, Sergeant Del Toro remembers trying to call in air support and a doctor telling him he was going to make it. After three months in a coma and three more months of intense physical therapy, Sergeant Del Toro pushed himself to recover enough just so he could walk a few steps. For his actions, Sergeant Del Toro was awarded the Purple Heart, presented by General T. Michael Moseley, Air Force Chief of Staff, and the Bronze Star, awarded to him by the Army. 

Veterans Day honors the heroism of those who fight today - Airmen like Major Wolak, Captain Markle, and Technical Sergeant Del Toro -- while remembering the gallantry of those who are no longer with us. On this day, we honor our veterans of the battlefield and we those veterans who have come to the aid of victims of manmade and natural disasters. For 60 years, Airmen have manned the frontlines, providing hope and an outstretched hand to the needy when disaster strikes and hope is scarce. Today, we provide, fast, agile, lifesaving support in the form of food, supplies and other humanitarian needs in many places around the globe. One of these places is in the Horn of Africa, where nearly 200 hundred Airmen are currently deployed to provide critical airlift support for humanitarian aid, as well as search and rescue operations for all branches of the military. Or in Southern California, where Airmen assisted with fighting the wildfires there. 

Off the ground and beyond the skies, the Air Force is also defending America in space and cyberspace. The Air Force's dominance in space and cyberspace delivers sovereign options for the defense of the Unites States of America and its global interests. Delivering sovereign options means operating across the joint spectrum to provide the President with a myriad of choices that are unlimited by distance and time and spans the entire range from humanitarian assistance to long-range strike. 

The Air Force has evolved from military balloons and World War I dog fights to the F-22 and fighting the Global War on Terror. Your Air Force has established itself as the preeminent provider of Air, Space and Cyberspace capabilities. As it continues to evolve and change to meet the challenges of the future, Airmen will continue to fulfill our obligation to protect America, deter aggression, assure our allies, and defeat our enemies. 

Although providing a secure future for our nation in a dynamic and constantly evolving environment will challenge us to build on the heritage of our veterans, we are confident the men and women of America's Air Force are more than up to this important task. 

Today, let's reflect on the foresight, courage and sacrifices of our past leaders and heroes and remember the courage and sacrifices of today's Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Airmen, and Coast Guardsmen, who are fighting for freedom and providing humanitarian relief at home and overseas. We also need to remember their families and loved ones who stand by their side and support them as they defend our country. Whether attending a parade, a memorial service or observing the day in private, please reflect upon and mark this occasion by saying "Thank you," to our veterans of our nation's armed forces.