In the company of heroes

  • Published
  • By Command Chaplain (Col.) Bobby Page
  • Air Combat Command
It was my honor to have been standing in the company of heroes on Thanksgiving Day this year. I had the privilege of traveling with Lt. Gen. Gary North, 9th Air Force/Central Air Forces commander to the tip of the spear in Afghanistan and found America's Airmen serving with selfless dedication. We observed that Senior Airman Jason Cunningham's heroic sacrifice continues to inspire those who serve in Afghanistan, particularly people at the camp that bears his name and those from his tight-knit pararescue community. T

This brave Air Force pararescueman, a 26-year-old husband and father of two daughters, with a passion for helping others, made the motto "that others may live" his way of life. On March 2, 2002, Cunningham gave his life on a snowy mountainside so that ten wounded rangers could live. His story is told in the book Roberts Ridge: A Story of Courage and Sacrifice on Takur Ghar Mountain, Afghanistan, by Malcolm Macpherson. Where Jason fell there stands today a heroic team of young Americans serving as he did so that others may live - and live free. I wish every American could stand where I stood.

Here's the message I brought to these Airmen:

As Americans and Airmen you have much to be thankful for
Certainly we can give thanks for those who love us, the children who depend on us, the friends and wingmen around us, abundant food, a hot shower, a warm bunk, and so much more. I told them of my beloved Grandpa Charlie, a fiddle-playing, hardworking farmer who raised a big family and was a hero of mine. Every Thanksgiving he'd tell us the same joke. "I'm thankful I'm not a turkey!" Grandpa made gratitude a habit and gave thanks year round throughout his long life. I believe, along with everything else, as Airmen we can give thanks we were not called to do a soft job, but we have been called to do a significant job.

America is thankful for you
Everywhere I went prior to this trip people asked me to express their gratitude to our deployed Airmen. "Thank you for fighting for us," children in Sugar Land, Texas, asked me to tell them during a visit to their school just before Veteran's Day. I wanted these warriors to know that as America's Airmen they are a national treasure essential to the defense of freedom. If our children and grandchildren are going to enjoy the taste of liberty and experience a life free from fear and want as previous generations of Americans have been blessed to do, it will be, in part, because of the sacrifices America's Airmen are making at home and around the world today. I wanted them to know America can be thankful for the fact that no U.S. Soldier has had to fear hostile fire from an enemy aircraft since 1953 because American Airmen own the skies.

America is praying for you
All across our country on Thanksgiving Day as people paused to give thanks for the abundance we enjoy, I know many were also praying for America's Airmen. I know I represented proud parents, spouses and children of Airmen and patriots everywhere when I prayed with group after group of Airmen gathered to hear General North and his command chief tell them how proud they are of them. I listened to stories of courage under fire and watched as the officer in charge traced on the map the route of the rescue mission he had flown the night before. As they lifted wounded Soldiers to safety and the world's best medical care, I know they were the best friend those soldiers ever had and an answer to prayer for the families who love them. I put a hand on that officer's shoulder and prayed that God would keep him strong and bring him home safely to loved ones. I said thank you and prayed for the young maintainers who keep his helicopter flying despite the extreme stress of combat flying in an environment like Afghanistan. I marveled at the futuristic work of pilots flying Unmanned Ariel Vehicles and their systems operators who keep a round-the-clock eye in the sky. I was impressed with the way Airmen blend their talents in seamless teams with Army, Navy, coalition partners, civilians, active duty and others in order to get the job done. In my prayers, again and again, I offered God my thanks for the privilege of being a chaplain to America's Airmen and standing in the company of heroes - men and women who are not just making a living, but making a difference - a positive, enduring difference for America and our host nation.