Keeping the enemy at bay: Every Airman plays an important role in the fight

  • Published
  • By Col. James Weber
  • 62nd Maintenance Group commander
After moving from Scott Air Force Base, Ill., to McChord, it was that time again -- time to unpack. As usual, we got started by emptying our suitcases and hang-up bags first, followed by the cardboard boxes of family treasures we trusted only ourselves to unpack.
There, amidst the family photos, my wife Denise's jewelry and our wedding album, lay a weather-beaten, sheepskin cap. The honey-colored fur on the inside of the cap was matted and the dark brown exterior was chipped and flaking, but the decal on the bill of the cap was still recognizable as the Air Force's emblem with the words "Army Air Forces" in block letters underneath. 

That hat belonged to my Uncle Jack Brennan and carries with it a message -- a message all of us in the profession of arms need to remember, especially in light of the Global War on Terror. 

In the late 60's, Uncle Jack would frequently come to our house for dinner. I can remember sitting in rapt attention as he reminisced about the three years he spent in the Army Air Forces after being drafted at age 36 during World War II. 

In the spring of 1944, he and a number of other 8th Air Force personnel were sent on temporary duty to Russia. They went via ship to Iran, then by truck and train to bases in what is now the Ukraine. They learned they were part of a plan to launch bombers from England to Germany and then recover the bombers at Russian bases. Among other things, this strategy was supposed to keep the bombers from having to fly back through the enemy fighters they'd just passed. 

Unfortunately for the allied forces, after the program's implementation, the Germans sent reconnaissance aircraft to follow the stream of B-17 Flying Fortress bombers to the landing fields in Russia. 

Consequently, according to Army records, five hours after landing at Poltava, Ukraine, the B-17s of the 45th Bomb Wing were attacked by wave after wave of Luftwaffe bombers and fighters. The bombs illuminated the airfield with flares. 

By morning, of the 72 B-17s that had arrived the previous afternoon, 44 were destroyed and another 26 were damaged. 

Miraculously, due to the heroic actions of the Russians who lost more than two-dozen men, only one American lost his life. 

Due to that attack, my uncle Jack found out then that none of us are "just ground pounders." We all play an important role in keeping the enemy at bay, even though a determined enemy can, and often does, get through to inflict their terror, despite all our best efforts. 

Therefore, it is our responsibility, as commanders, to do our best to give the troops entrusted to our care the training they need to protect themselves. We must also remind all officers, noncommissioned officers and individual Airmen to be aware of the harm they face while deployed, so that they are always on guard.