Support Veterans With Honor Flight

If You Are Looking For A Way To Support Veterans, Consider Honor Flight

Honor Flight is a great organization that gives veterans the support and recognition they deserve.

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A World War II veteran sits on a bus, unable to move, overtaken by emotions. He's not sure he can face the task at hand. The memories of the day he lost his arm overwhelm him. He has never been able to talk about it. Suddenly, other veterans surround him. They urge him to brave the Iwo Jima memorial, the battle where he was wounded. Encouraged yet nervous, he leaves the bus and visits the memorial. As he gazes at the site, he finally has begun to gain closure about his experiences. This story is what Honor Flight represents.

Honor Flight Network, an all-volunteer charitable organization, provides a valuable service to elderly U.S. veterans by giving them a free trip to the Washington D.C. war memorials. These flight missions are carried out by 130 regional hubs across the country. In 2018, they transported 20,958 veterans.

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, an estimated 640 WWII veterans die each day. The World War II memorial was opened in 2004. By then, a lot of the veterans had grown older and had become physically and financially incapable of going to their own memorial. Before the memorial was finished, many veterans weren't getting the honor they deserve. Honor Flight seeks to address both of these issues by making their main objective giving World War II heroes the honor they deserve before they all leave their country.

The details of each trip vary from group to group across the nation, but the main focus is visiting the memorials. The following is an example of a typical trip. The first day is an orientation where the guardians and veterans meet together. Honor Flight gives preference to veteran applicants in the following order: veterans who are terminally ill, those who served in World War II, Korean War veterans, and more recently, Vietnam War veterans. A Guardian is a volunteer, sometimes family, who travels with the veterans to watch over them and help them with any needs.

Four trained paramedics travel with them on every flight. On the actual day of the flight, they meet at the airport early in the morning and go through security together. They receive breakfast at the gate and board the Southwest airplane. As the plane rolls down the runway, firetrucks line up and shoot a water cannon salute over the plane. They fly to Washington D.C. and exit the plane to a military receiving line. Volunteers guide them through the airport to the busses that will take them to their war memorials. Once they are loaded on the busses, police officers ride alongside the bus and escort them to their first stop, the changing of the guard at Arlington National Cemetery. The next three memorials they visit are Women in Service, Iwo Jima, which highlights the marines, and the Air Force Memorial.

After lunch, the veterans are taken to the World War II memorial, the highlight of the trip. Sometimes, members of Congress and local TV stations are there to honor and meet the veterans. At times, World War II re-enactors are present at the memorial to interact and thank the veterans for their service. The reenactors spark the memories of the veterans, reminding them of when they were younger and what life was like in the 1940s. Then, they all then take a group picture and afterward go to the Vietnam Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial, and their final stop, the Korean War Memorial. When it is over, they all board the buses that will take them back to the airport. The quiet mood in the busses provides the veterans with a time of recollection.

Before getting on the plane, letters expressing thanks and honor from people, such as family and friends, are given to the veterans. When they return to their hometown, the veterans are greeted with signs of thanks and a huge crowd thanks them and honors them, while music plays.

The reactions of the veterans are very solemn. When they look upon the memorials, they become very silent and shed some tears as they reflect on past memories. Many of the veterans have to be convinced to come on the flights because they don't think they deserve it, but once they are there, they form bonds with the other veterans and guardians. Visiting these memorials gives them the closure they need to handle their experiences in the war. Being around people who have shared the same feelings allows them to tell stories about their time in the war. Many veterans feel honored in a way they never felt before. Also, they are able to grieve for their fellow friends who died in battle.

One veteran, who was in the Navy during the Vietnam War, was given a day off from his duties on the ship. While he was gone, another soldier took his place. Later, the boat was destroyed, and everyone on it was killed. At the memorial, this veteran found the name of his replacement on the wall and rubbed an imprint of the name on a piece of paper. Nancy Riordan, an active member of Honor Flight of Central Florida, explained, "we believe our Veterans have honored us with their service, and it is our mission to honor them."

In Orlando, where I live, veterans travel with Honor Flight of Central Florida. Their website will connect you with fundraising events and upcoming flight information. If you are interested in welcoming the veterans back from their trip, the 2019 spring flight dates are May 4th and June 15th. Fall flight dates will be announced at a later date. My family and I have participated in the past, and it was great seeing the smiles on the veterans' faces. My aunt took her dad on an Honor Flight mission in Colorado, and I wrote letters for their mail call.

As Harry S. Truman said in his address to Congress in 1945, "Our debt to the heroic men and valiant women in the service of our country can never be repaid. They have earned our undying gratitude. America will never forget their sacrifices."

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Reminiscing On My Basic Military Training Days, 13 Years Later

It has been 13 years since my enlistment but it feels like yesterday.

yahairas
yahairas
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It is that time of year again, high school seniors are preparing for graduation and making the final decisions on what their next step is going to be. Whether it is pursuing higher education, technical skills or maybe just going wherever the wind takes them, students have a choice to make soon. During this period, students will attend college fairs and job fairs.

This is the time when military branches will present another option for these young people who have yet to make a concrete decision, and the benefits usually far outweigh the negatives.

Thirteen years ago, I found myself in that situation of not knowing exactly what I wanted to be or where I wanted to go. I let my college applications back up. I had a multitude of career goals. There are so many great things to try out with our lives ahead of us, so why are we just limited to choosing just one?

Joining the military was far from my mind at the time. Until one of my classmates brought the option up to me. He already had an endgame in mind. He wanted to join the Air Force and eventually become a pilot. I shrugged my shoulders at the suggestion and said I thought about it. Not long after, I found myself in the Air Force recruiter's office speaking with a very enthusiastic "face of the Air Force."

Fast forward to the end of my senior year and I found myself committing to joining the United States Air Force, entering the Delayed Enlisted Program (DEP) until my Basic Military Training (BMT) date on September 25, 2007, one day after my 18th birthday. I saw myself finishing 20 years and with a wealth of knowledge and experience courtesy of my future military background.

The first step to my 20-year goal was BMT.

I flew into San Antonio, Texas and was immediately exposed to the reality of training. Unlike the other military branches, BMT consisted of six and a half weeks with technical training afterward. When you think about it, six and a half weeks is not a very long time but for a person who has never been apart from their family, it felt like an eternity. The first day of BMT was a blur.

This was my first taste of what the rest of the Air Force would consist of. The hundreds of trainees that raised their right hands and took that oath to protect and serve were all around me, sitting on the floor with our legs crossed. We were trying hard to keep our eyes open while Technical Instructors (TIs) watched us from a distance, waiting for their chance to attack. We were given pamphlets to read that held the knowledge we needed to commit to memory, in preparation for when TIs would ask for that information. If you did not know the answer, you were in for a world of hurt.

The intent of BMT was to basically ready us for the next step: Tech School. Tech School would prove to be more demanding than BMT, hence the name BASIC military training. We are given the basic essentials that will help us level up. BMT introduces us to weapons training, self-aid buddy care, fitness standards, Air Force history, rank structure, responsibility, independence and the chain of command (just to name a few).

It is surprising to find how many people join the military and lack the basic skills of living independently and to deal with the stresses life will eventually throw at you. The TIs will find those weaknesses and exploit them to hopefully break it out of us and make is into better Airmen. On the other end, they would exploit it and make you realize that maybe you just don't have what it takes to be that 1% that serves in the United States Military.

After the hurry up and wait process on the floor, we were sent outside to wait some more. One thing my recruiter told me to do was never volunteer. I did not follow his advice. Blame it on exhaustion or just poor listening skills to just wanting to get into bed, but one of the first questions the TIs asked us if we played an instrument. They didn't specify a type. I was hesitant at first. However, slowly but surely I rose my hand, admitting to having played the piano.

That was how I found myself in Band Flight … with no band knowledge in my repertoire. Of course, with my lack of musical ability, I was assigned the easiest instrument available: the cymbals. We were assigned to our squadrons/flights that we were to call home for the next two months.

The TIs were quick to tell us that half of our flight would wash back or go home by the end of the training. The first night in my bed, you could hear muffled crying from those girls who thought maybe they made a mistake or this was the first time being away from home. Maybe they were never exposed to the in your face yelling that was sure to come. BMT was a rude reality check for a lot of the trainees, but what many people failed to realize at the time, BMT is not the real Air Force. It is just a trial we have to go through in order to make it to our 20-year endgame. It is just that first step to the rest of our lives.

Thinking of my BMT days 13 years later, I realize how easy it was and how I just over-complicated everything back then. Hindsight is 20/20, but I wouldn't change any of it for the world.

yahairas
yahairas

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