'Reflecting on our Past, Sustaining our Future'

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Joe McFadden
  • 1st Special Operations Wing Public Affairs
Editor's Note: Senior Airman Joe W. McFadden served as one of the masters of ceremonies for the Hurlburt Ball at the Emerald Coast Conference Center on Okaloosa Island Sept. 14.

So, Hurlburt Field... it's come to this? Sixty-five years of the Air Force's existence, and we are finally having a ball now. It had to have been a record for Air Force bases-- one that many on our base may have supported keeping.

But why are we here dressed up like this? Why did some of us undergo months of preparation - with all the donuts sold, rounds of golf played and cars washed? And why did we choose it to be all for this moment?

Tonight's theme is "Reflecting on Our Past, Sustaining Our Future." While tonight does take place during the 65th anniversary of our Air Force's founding, it's also the 65th occasion that our base, whether as a station or group of people, has marked this milestone.

In times of war and peace, Hurlburt Field has observed the 18th of September in a variety of ways: be it a cake-cutting ceremony or a proclamation signing. Or perhaps we honored the day like we've done most every day--either working here or deployed--in keeping with being a "Quiet Professional."

That term --"Quiet Professional" -- it's like one of the many other slogans we hear around here like "Any Time, Any Place" or "Home of America's Air Commandos." But in our everyday lives, we sometimes lose sight of that. In fact, we pass by the phrase each time we drive through the gates.

We also speed by the Airpark, something we may take for just another right turn on our way to the shoppette. For others, our base can seem like just a place for tourists to take pictures and for retirees to trade stories about a time long since gone.

But we've become something more--much more-- than a stop between Eglin and Pensacola. We are the home of America's Air Commandos, and we ignore our base's legacy and meaning at our own peril. The pages of the Air Force's history book are filled with the decisions and missions that took place from individuals and aircraft right from here.

Our base started off as a sleepy runway in Northwest Florida, where the horizon beyond the air control towers was punctuated with palm trees along the blue-green waters of the Emerald Coast. In fact, before the Air Force became its own department, we were primarily known as "Eglin Auxiliary Field #9."

But a tragic take-off from a runway in October 1943 would eventually lead to changing our field's designation. Sadly, we'll never know what kind of a leader then-1st Lt. Donald Hurlburt would have ultimately become as a result of that fateful day. Nor would we know what he might think of us and who we'd become by arriving here through orders that bore his name.

He never got to see the eventual Allied Victory over tyranny and fascism-- the victory he and his comrades signed up to ensure and the one that his sacrifice ultimately demanded. And he never saw the creation of the independent Air Force--the event that many of our fellow bases honor with gatherings like the one in this hall tonight. What would he say about why we're here tonight?

The answer to that question is also tied to why we're here. But both don't solely focus on a cause or what one individual may have thought. It's really a larger question of who we --the Team Hurlburt community-- really are. Our answer is found in our Airpark, described as the heart of our base, but not solely for the aircraft held there or the missions memorialized there, too.

Around the time of Hurlburt's death, Col. Phil Cochran and Col. John Alison became the leaders of the newly-formed 1st Air Commando Group in World War II. Back then, being an Air Commando meant more than putting on the first bush hat. It took raw physical courage to look at the first wooden Chindit flyer, review a risky mission to glide over enemy territory in Burma-Indo-China and say "Heh, I'll fly that." Perhaps that's how our operations got the term "special." But it was never the missions or the aircraft that gave us the term "special"--it was the people who made them so.

Soon joining those aviation pioneers would be scores of selfless Airmen of all ranks, colors, creeds and both sexes serving from the jungles of Phillipines to the mountains of Korea, from the jungles of Vietnam to the deserts of the Middle East. The passages in our Air Force history book like Operation Thursday, the Son Tay Raid and Operation Just Cause were authored by the heroic deeds of Airmen like Gen. Heinie Aderholt, Lt. Col. Joseph Jackson and Airman 1st Class John Levitow.

While women played a key role in our nation's victory in World War II, it's tragic to note that, up until recently, they were not allowed to pilot special operations aircraft for most of our history. But in claiming equality with their brothers who serve, our base's answer to shattering that glass ceiling was exemplified by the first female commander of a gunship squadron, Lt. Col. Brenda Cartier.

From all these successes and challenges of our past, you can see how our story continues, with many more pages recently penned with fresh ink or left remaining blank to be filled by our successors. Take a good look around you: in these seats, you'll see the collective face of Team Hurlburt.

Today, our special operators pilot aircraft into some of the most dangerous areas on the planet to rescue hostages or provide air support all to the frustration of our nation's enemies and to the relief of our fellow Sailors, Soldiers and Marines on the ground who thank us "for having the guts to try."

But without the critical support that our maintainers offer on the flightline and in the hangars--be it weaponry, engine parts, propulsion, satellites, and, of course, ammo-- those aircraft might as well be in our airpark, and our pilots would never get off the ground.

Whether deployed far away or for our families back home, our mission support group is always on the front lines for Team Hurlburt, whether they provide vital logistics, serve in our award-winning dining facilities and fitness centers, defend our base in the patrol cars, expertly review contracts, set up critical cyber-communication or preserve and cultivate the base's environment.

Perhaps no group is more in tune with honoring our past and future than our Medical Airmen. They not only ensure we're fit to fight, but they keep the promise of caring for our families, children and retired Airmen, and they always will.

And where would we be without those who help us get paid, welcome us with open arms at the chapel, guide us with effective legal counsel, work long hours in command post, serve in the honor guard, set up awesome protocol for ceremonies like this, and those who shoot video, take pictures and write the stories?

But that's just one wing. We're blessed to not just have two, but three wings who call Hurlburt home. Although they're newly-formed, our commitment to the combat controllers, weatherman, pararescuemen and Tactical Air Control Party of the 24th Special Operations Wing truly dates back to when Col. Herring said "Please be assured that we will go with your boys Any Place, Any Time, Any Where."

For our next wing "C2" isn't just an acronym: it's a way of life dedicated to delivering command and control combat capability for our Air Force, joint and coalition forces. If Hurlburt Field is the "Home of America's Air Commandos," it also shares the honor of being "the gateway to operational excellence," thanks to the 505th Command and Control Wing.

And we cannot forget the fact that our partner units - whether they provide intel or test weaponry or deploy in hostile environments, setting up hard structures all while shouting "To the Horse!" -- they all add to the rich character to what it means to be a part of Team Hurlburt.

But if you take a closer look around, you may notice some other faces whom cannot be here. Our past has shown what we're capable of when times goes our way, but how we've handled times of challenge and loss have also spoken about our character.

Together, we mourned the loss of our fallen comrades in Desert One and Spirit 03.

Together, within the past year, our community has honored the memory our own brothers and sisters who couldn't be here tonight: Lt. Col. John Loftis, Capt. Ryan Hall, Capt. Nicholas Whitlock, 1st Lt. Justin Willkens, Tech. Sgt. Linda Sanchez and Senior Airman Julian Scholten.

Together, we cared for their families-- parents, siblings, spouses and children-- who received a folded flag and a promise that we would never forget their sacrifice.

We're able to hold this event in relative comfort and style, not simply because we can or we want to get "dressed up" or to mark just another day. We're here because we honor those who have given their all to allow us to do this.

That Air Commando spirit and that dedication to protecting the country lives on today, not just here -- but in our deployed brothers and sisters around the world at this very moment. We honor them, because that, too, is what it means to be stationed at Hurlburt Field. That's the kind of people we are.

Ladies and gentlemen, we are here in this hall tonight, as we've never done before, not for just any reason. We're here so we can say for all those Airmen, like Lt. Hurlburt, who paid the ultimate sacrifice; for all those Airmen who once called Hurlburt Field home or have long since honorably retired from the service, entrusting that legacy to us; for all those Airmen who currently serve with us today and their families, including our brothers and sisters deployed around the world right now and cannot be with us; and for all those Airmen who will succeed us by raising their hand to carry on in the echelon of our future Air Force, with deep reflection and promise, we inaugurate this, the first-ever Hurlburt Ball.