By Tech. Sgt. Torri Hendrix, Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs Command Information / Published September 16, 2015
WASHINGTON (AFNS) -- In a historical event, the Air Force’s top enlisted leader honored the service’s top general with an invitation to an Order of the Sword ceremony during the Air Force Association’s Air and Space Conference and Technology Exposition Sept. 16.
Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James A. Cody, who is the trusted keeper of the Air Force Master Sword, thanked Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III for his exceptional service as a leader and for his significant care of the enlisted corps.
“Any organization needs a heartbeat,” Cody said. “There isn’t an Airman out there that cares more about our Airmen, their families and our Air Force.”
According to regulation, The Order of the Sword was established by the Air Force enlisted force to recognize and honor military senior officers with the rank of colonel or above, and civilian equivalents, for conspicuous and significant contributions to the welfare and prestige of the Air Force enlisted force, mission effectiveness and the overall military establishment.
“We have been blessed to be under your leadership, unbelievably so,” Cody told Welsh. “We would not be where we are without you. On behalf of the nearly 400,000 enlisted Airmen, we’d like you to accept this invitation to be the 10th recipient of the Air Force Order of the Sword, the highest level of recognition that can be afforded by the enlisted force.”
The Order of the Sword tradition is rooted in chivalry from the Middle Ages. In 1522, King Gustavus the First of Sweden ordered the noblemen commissioned by him to appoint officers to serve him. The system worked so well it was incorporated into the Swedish Army as a way to establish and maintain a cohesive, disciplined and well-trained force to protect lives and property in the kingdom.
These NCOs would honor their leader and pledge their loyalty by ceremoniously presenting him with a sword. The sword, a symbol of truth, justice and power rightfully used, served as a token for all to see and know that here was a “leader among leaders.” This ceremony became known as the “Royal Order of the Sword.” It was passed through the ages, coming to America about the time of the Revolutionary War.
The practice of awarding a sword lay dormant for many years. The only known instance of its use was in the 1860s when Gen. Robert E. Lee was presented a sword by his command. The “Royal Order of the Sword” ceremony was revised, updated and adopted by the NCOs of the Air Force in 1967.
Welsh, who was surprised by the invitation, was only able to say “thank you” to Cody when he accepted the invitation. After some of the shock wore off, he reflected on how he felt about receiving this honor from the enlisted corps.
“I’m astonished and incredibly proud,” Welsh said. “This is the single greatest honor of my career.”
(Editor’s Note: Historical background information was taken from Air Force Instruction 36-2824 – Order of the Sword Programs.)