Friday, May 23, 2014

Maintaining a legacy: 2nd AMXS continues WWI heritage

by Airman 1st Class Benjamin Raughton
2nd Bomb Wing Public Affairs

5/22/2014 - BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE La. -- There's one room in the 96th Bomb Squadron that shows Airmen not just maintaining aircraft, but maintaining and recording their heritage by volunteering off-duty time and resources to the special place displaying their lineage.

The 96th BS Heritage Room is not only a reminder to the maintainers' long, storied history, but is a product of the Airmen's dedication resulting in a visual representation of their legacy.

"This [Heritage Room] shows the Airmen that they're a part of something bigger than themselves and part of a legacy that's been continuing since World War I," said Chief Master Sgt. Roy Hess, 2nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron maintenance superintendent. "If you never look back, you may never appreciate how you came to be where you are today. Once you're a part of this family, this becomes your lineage."

The Heritage Room began with photographs depicting the history of the 96th BS, with some images dating back to 1919.

The room is also designed to boost morale, said Staff Sgt. Harley Phillips, 2nd AMXS debrief assistant NCO in-charge.

"We've gone from a French-built B-2 biplane to a Boeing B-52H Stratofortress, and our room reflects everything in between," he said.

The Heritage Room contains photos of the 96th BS maintenance hangar being built in the 1930s, photos of many aircraft flown by the squadron since 1919 and more current squadron photos.

"Throughout the years, several people have contributed to the room," said Phillips. "Many of the photos are from the historian or are local finds."

The room also contains parts from aircraft flown in the past by the bomb squadron that have been recycled into iconic displays. One of these aircraft parts is a B-18 engine cowling.

"We made a table from the engine cowling," Phillips said. "We opened it up, put a shelf inside with other items on it and put glass on top."

The cowling-table ties in with other historical aspects of the room such as control maps, newspaper clippings and a flight computer.

As the squadron continues to evolve, so will the Heritage Room.

"It feels awesome to be working in a squadron with this much history behind it," said Senior Airman Nicholas Kupferle, 2nd AMXS dedicated crew chief. "This room gives us a sense of how far along we've come and how the past has led us to where we are in the present."

Lincoln’s Sailors Save Money on Refit

By Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Zachary A. Anderson
USS Abraham Lincoln

NEWPORT NEWS, Va., May 23, 2014 – A refueling complex overhaul is one of the most expensive maintenance periods a ship will go through in its life-cycle.

And, during a time when budget cuts are a possibility, sailors on board the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) are doing their part to minimize the cost of Lincoln’s overhaul.

Navy Seaman Judith Bell led a team of three sailors from Lincoln’s Deck Department in the refurbishment of detachable anchor chain links. The sailors’ labor is saving the Navy $80,000 by not contracting out the work.

The project used 192 man-hours over a two-week period and resulted in a greatly extended lifespan for the chain links.

“Our first step was lowering each of the three 350-pound links and transporting them to the light industrial facility,” Bell said. “After we got the links to LIFAC, they were sandblasted and thoroughly cleaned, followed by two coats of primer and paint.”

While the evolution saved the Navy money, it also had another important benefit.

“This was a great experience,” Bell said. “It was a welcome break from our normal day. It gave us a chance to get some valuable hands-on training and save the taxpayers a considerable amount of money in the process.”

The project’s supervisor, Navy Chief Warrant Officer 3 Brian Lencacher, was pleased with the multiple benefits of the project.

“We got to save the Navy some serious money,” Lencacher said, “and our sailors got some good on-the-job training and practice with leadership.”

The USS Lincoln is currently undergoing a refit at Newport News Shipbuilding, a division of Huntington Ingalls Industries.

The Lincoln is the fifth ship of the Nimitz-class to undergo an overhaul of this nature, a major life-cycle milestone.

Once the refitting is complete, Lincoln will be one of the most modern and technologically-advanced Nimitz-class aircraft carriers in the fleet and will continue to be a vital part of the nation's defense.

Seeking Help: Combating prescription drug abuse

by Staff Sgt. Sean Martin
2nd Bomb Wing Public Affairs

5/22/2014 - BARKSDALE AIR FORCE Base, LA. -- Editor's Note: This feature is part of a 2nd Bomb Wing Public Affairs series on "Airmen seeking help".

I felt nothing. I was just going through the motions day-in and day- out. It all changed once I found an escape. I looked forward to coming home every day and self-medicating until I passed out and was able to temporarily forget about it all. It wasn't until someone confronted me that I realized I needed help fast.

These were thoughts a non-commissioned officer, in our Air Force, experienced. This individual sought help in a time of need, before it was too late.

Prescription drug abuse is defined as the intentional use of a medication without a prescription, in a way other than as prescribed, or for the experience or feeling it causes.

Although illicit drug use is lower among U.S. military personnel than among civilians, heavy alcohol and tobacco use, and especially prescription drug abuse, are much more prevalent and are on the rise.

"Some commonly abused medications are opiod pain relievers such as Vicodin, Percocet and Norco, benzodiazepines and amphetamine-like drugs," said Capt. Michael Glotfelter, Alcohol Drug Abuse and Prevention program manager.

Although different drugs have different physical effects, the symptoms of addiction are similar.

"A person can display physical, behavioral and psychological signs of drug abuse," said Glotfelter. "Some signs include bloodshot eyes, a drop in attendance and performance at work and home, and sudden mood swings, irritability or angry outbursts. There are many other signs and symptoms a person can display that could classify them as having an abuse problem."

A person's own experiences and situations can contribute to them becoming more at risk for developing a prescription drug dependency.

"As with many other conditions and diseases, vulnerability to addiction differs from person to person," said Glotfelter. "Risk factors that can increase a person's vulnerability include deployment related injuries, a family history of addiction, abuse, neglect or traumatic experience as a child or adult, mental health issues such as depression or anxiety or frequently being prescribed medications. People also abuse prescription medications related to misperception that they are safe since they are prescribed by a medical provider."

The Air Force has a variety of tools and programs available to service members who may be suffering from or know someone suffering from an abuse problem. Service members interested in seeking help are strongly advised to do so as soon as they feel it necessary.

"Military members seeking substance use counseling can talk with their doctor, chain of command, or self-refer to ADAPT," said Jeffrey Hikes, Drug Demand Reduction program manager. "In addition, Military One Source has contracted civilian counselors who provide confidential assessment and counseling to military personnel and their families."

"Here at Barksdale, we have various outlets service members can use to include ADAPT, base chaplains, Military One Source, behavioral health consultants and the individuals primary care manager," said Glotfelter. "The Air Force has a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to prescription drug abuse, and these programs, along with each and every service member, will help minimize drug abuse within the Air Force."

For information or resources available to service members, visit

Soldiers Tackle North America’s Tallest Peak

Headquarters, U.S. Army Alaska

JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska, May 23, 2014 – Soldiers, primarily from U.S. Army Alaska’s 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, will test their cold weather, high altitude and mountaineering skills against 20,320-foot-high Mount McKinley, the tallest peak in North America.

The team plans to reach the summit by June 11.

The first of two U.S. Army Alaska climbing teams flew from Talkeetna, Alaska, on May 21 and landed at the National Park Service base camp on Kahiltna Glacier, more than 7,000 feet high in the Alaska Range.

This is unlike any other hike in the Denali National Park. From the base to the peak Mount McKinley rises 18,400 feet and is considered the tallest of any mountain when measured from top to bottom. The climbers will take the West Buttress Route, and expect the climb to take from 18 to 23 days, including weather days and stops for acclimatization to the altitude as they ascend more than 13,000 vertical feet from their start point.

Soldiers in the second team, primarily from the 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, will follow suit beginning May 28.

Common hazards for the expeditions could include extreme cold, altitude illness, crevasses, avalanches, ice and rock fall and extreme weather. A climber from Tacoma, Washington, was killed earlier this month when she fell nearly 1,000 feet during a storm after successfully reaching the peak during an attempt to traverse the summit from north to south.

Climbing teams from U.S. Army Alaska have made more than 16 expeditions on the West Buttress Route since 1980. This season’s teams will post daily mission updates available on both the U.S. Army Alaska webpage and the U.S. Army Alaska Face book page.

U.S. Army Alaska is the Army’s foremost cold weather and mountainous fighting force and is capable of a variety of mission types including search and rescue, defense support to civil authorities, humanitarian aid/disaster response and security operations across a wide range of climate and geographic zones, including high-altitude, extreme cold weather.

Naval attaché visit highlights maritime dimension

by David Bedard
JBER Public Affairs

5/23/2014 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- According to the Congressional Research Service, Alaska has 6,640 miles of shoreline - more than the rest of the United States combined. With the arctic sea ice rapidly diminishing, maritime traffic is swiftly increasing in the Arctic Ocean and through the Bering Strait, raising security and commerce regulation concerns.

Despite these considerations, Alaska does not have a major Navy installation, nor does the state have a single destroyer, cruiser or submarine assigned to it. So why would the U.S. Navy Foreign Liaison Office - part of the Chief of Naval Operations office at the Pentagon - bring foreign naval attachés to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson?

Navy Capt. Jay Coles, U.S. Navy Foreign Liaison Office director, said JBER's nature as a joint base representing every branch of service made the May 16 stop an ideal addition to the naval attachés' trip itinerary, which included a follow-on trip to Navy and Marine Corps installations in Southern California.

"The Navy and the other services operate as a joint force," Coles said. "Here, you have Alaskan Command - a joint headquarters. You also have the Coast Guard, which in many countries is not a separate service from their navy like it is with us."

The attachés represented 31 navies from the Americas, Asia, Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Coles said attaché visits to installations expose them to how the U.S. is organized and operates while simultaneously fostering stronger inter-navy cooperation.

"The idea is to build excellent relationships - partnerships that are important to the Navy and the Marine Corps," Coles explained. "These partnerships will help us work better together in the future, both during exercises and real-world operations. An admiral said you can surge military forces, but you can't surge trust. Trust is built on fostering relationships."

The captain said another benefit of the U.S. Navy's openness to foreign navy attachés is gaining reciprocity for American counterparts assigned abroad.

"We're open," Coles said. "We set the standard for openness and transparency in the hope other countries are open and transparent in supporting our attachés overseas."
Commodore Stephen McDowall, Royal Australian Navy attaché to Washington D.C., said inter-navy cooperation is critical to ensuring open sea lanes and international amity.
"We're all committed to doing our part to ensure a secure, stable and prosperous world," McDowall said. "I think the challenges and opportunities that face these many different countries - from Asia, Indian Ocean areas, the Americas, Europe, are very similar. We all have to sit down together, roll up our sleeves, and work on the challenges to ensure the opportunities are capitalized on for the world."

With the United States' strategic pivot to the Asia-Pacific region, McDowall said partnerships between Pacific navies become even more critical.

"I view the Pacific and Indian oceans regions as all interconnected - in fact it's an interconnected world," the commodore elaborated. "My country, like the United States, wants to see a stable, prosperous, trading international community; and Alaska and the Pacific Coast - indeed all countries bordering the Pacific and Indian oceans - all have a stake in ensuring security, stability and economic opportunities, so that we can continue to trade, and our peoples can go from strength to strength. Alaska is no different than any other part of the Pacific Basin."

During morning mission briefs at JBER's Arctic Warrior Events Center, Army Col. Eric Brigham, ALCOM chief of staff, explained how Air Force Lt. Gen. Russell Handy commands ALCOM, Joint Task Force-Alaska, 11th Air Force and Alaskan NORAD Region. When asked by attachés if ALCOM reported to Pacific Command or Northern Command, Brigham offered a curious answer.

"Yes," he said, before further explaining how Handy has responsibilities to both combatant commanders along different lines of reporting.

Coast Guard interest
Because many foreign navies also function as coast guards, attachés showed particular interest during their visit to U.S. Coast Guard Sector Anchorage, located at the Alaska Army National Guard Armory on JBER.

Coast Guard Cmdr. Sean Decker, Sector Anchorage chief of response, spoke about the challenges of administering the Coast Guard's largest sector, which spans the entire state save Southeast Alaska.

Decker spoke about how diminishing arctic sea ice is greatly increasing traffic through the Bering Strait, the isthmus between Russia and Alaska that is 51 miles at its widest point and between 98 and 160 feet in depth. This increase in traffic will inevitably require more Coast Guard efforts in regulation as well as search and rescue.

Attachés were interested about the challenges associated with regulating and responding to commercial fishing operations, specifically in the Dutch Harbor area where the largest fisheries operate. They asked if there were issues keeping unauthorized foreign fishing boats from fishing Alaska waters. Decker said they work to keep American fishers in U.S. waters and foreign fishing boats out.

ALCOM areas of interest
Jeff Fee, ALCOM director of training and exercises, discussed where the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex fits in the U.S. armed force's range portfolio. Five times the size of the training range at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., Fee said JPARC facilitates large joint training exercises.

"You can do things up here that you just can't squeeze in down at Nellis," he said.
Fee also talked about the capabilities of the Temporary Maritime Activities Area, of particular interest to the naval attachés. Located in the Gulf of Alaska, the TMAA comprises more than 42,000 square nautical miles of surface and subsurface ocean training area and airspace. Fee said the TMAA's distance to JPARC's land ranges and JPARC's topography do an excellent job of approximating naval forces operating from the Arabian Sea into Afghanistan.

After Army Col. Thomas Roth, U.S. Army Alaska chief of staff, briefed the capabilities of his command, attachés asked if the Army recruited USARAK Soldiers from Alaska. He told the audience the vast majority of Soldiers come from other states and territories, and they are trained to operate in the rigors of arctic weather and terrain.

Navy Lt. Cmdr. Scott Mellgren, ALCOM logistics planner, briefed how Joint Logistics Over the Shore operated during last month's 14 linked Alaska disaster-response exercises. JLOTS is the process of moving goods ashore without a port. Mellgren said 90 percent of Alaska's goods come through the Port of Anchorage.

"The port is the center of gravity for the state," he said. "Any degradation to the port, and there may be three days' food left on the shelves at Wal-Mart and three days' of gas at the pumps."

The exercise simulated a temblor roughly the same magnitude as the 1964 Alaska earthquake, at which time the Port of Anchorage was greatly damaged. Navy and Army units worked together to establish an ad hoc port, bringing in supplies that were loaded onto trucks bound for stores in a process called "ship to shelf."

Navy Capt. Henny Jungermann, ALCOM director of plans, described the relatively small footprint of the U.S. Navy in Alaska. Navy elements in Alaska are:

Five officers and four enlisted Sailors work in ALCOM and support every ALCOM directorate.

The Navy Operational Support Center Anchorage, located at JBER-Richardson, provides mobilization-ready Navy Reserve Sailors to the fleet.

The Supervisor of Salvage and Diving, also located at JBER-Richardson is a civilian-operated component of Naval Sea Systems Command. SUPSALV provides support to the Navy, Department of Defense and other agencies in the ocean-engineering disciplines of marine salvage, pollution abatement, diving, diving system certification and waterborne ship repairs.

The Southeast Alaska Acoustic Measurement Facility, located near Ketchikan, is the Navy's only West Coast facility for high-fidelity passive acoustic signature measurements in support of surface ships and submarines. The SEAFAC measurements help submarines operate silently in an effort to evade enemy passive sonar.

The Naval Special Warfare Center on Spruce Cape, Kodiak Island, is a training facility where Navy SEAL candidates train in cold-weather operations.

The delegation also visited the NOSC, the SUPSALV facility and Marines of D Company, 4th Law Enforcement Battalion.

Though there is a big difference in climate between the South Pacific and the waters surrounding Alaska, McDowall said the opportunity to come to Alaska and learn about the military at JBER is beneficial to him and the attaché delegation. He also said navies of the world confront many of the same issues.

"Alaska is no different than the rest of the Pacific Basin," McDowall said. "[...] There are [maritime] issues that confront us all."

Kentucky ANG fliers support Spartan paratroopers

by Air Force Staff Sgt. Wes Wright
JBER Public Affairs

5/23/2014 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- A C-130 Hercules flying through hostile airspace banked in the afternoon sky, approaching an enemy airfield that had to be taken. Inside, above the steady hum of four turboprop engines, a loadmaster signaled with his hand and shouted, "One minute to drop!" He began counting down, "60, 59, 58, 57..."

An Army jumpmaster echoed the loadmaster's words to 64 airborne Soldiers as he scanned the drop zone, working with the aircraft navigator to gauge optimal conditions to deploy his Soldiers into battle. The Soldiers checked their rigging and gear for the hundredth time in anticipation of parachuting into the war zone.

"Three, two, one, GREEN LIGHT!"

One-by-one, the Soldiers exited through doors on either side of the aircraft.

This was just one of many scenarios that played out in Red Flag-Alaska 14-1, May 8 to 23. Red Flag is a joint/coalition, tactical air combat employment exercise. Aircrews were subjected to every conceivable combat threat, and scenarios were shaped to meet each exercise's specific training objectives. At the height of the exercise, up to 70 aircraft could be operating in the same airspace at one time.

While shuttling Soldiers and supplies to the fight is nothing new for the joint force, one unique aspect of this scenario is that the C-130 carrying the Alaska Soldiers is one of several aircraft participating from the Kentucky Air National Guard's 123d Airlift Wing.
Tech. Sgt. Chris Hodge, 165th Airlift Squadron C-130 loadmaster, worked directly with Soldiers from the United States Army Alaska's 82nd Airborne Division.

"Soldiers get used to going up and doing their drops fairly quickly," Hodge said. "But during Red Flag, they have to fly around with us for three or four hours before they can do their drops. We fly a lot of terrain masking that requires some tight maneuvering and you're pulling a lot of G-forces. But even when they get sick, they've done really well. They're great guys to work with."

Terrain masking is a technique heavy aircraft use to avoid radar detection and conflict. It's a tactic the KYANG has the unique opportunity to practice here in Alaska.

"It's challenging place to fly," said Air National Guard Lt. Col. Matt Stone, 123d Mission Support Group commander. "The C-130 doesn't have guns. The sheer size of the mountains makes it a unique challenge but a great training opportunity."

According to Kentucky Airmen, flying in denied airspace is something many of the aircrew rarely experience.

"One thing we're good at is support of counterinsurgency, because we've been in Afghanistan for 13 years," said Air National Guard Capt. James Ketterer, 165th Airlift Wing C-130 pilot. "What we've got a lot to learn about is flying in denied airspace. We've owned the airspace in Afghanistan for 13 years. We owned the airspace in Iraq in less than two weeks. We need to hone our skills going up against enemy fighters to make sure we can use that capability if it's required."

Prior to Operation Desert Storm, less than one-fifth of the U.S. Air Force's primary fighter pilots had seen actual combat. While the percentage of combat-experienced pilots has increased in recent years, at the time, a high percentage of pilots had no combat experience. Analysis indicated most combat losses occurred during an aircrew's first eight to 10 missions. Therefore, the goal of Red Flag Alaska is to provide each aircrew with these first vital missions, increasing their chances of survival in combat

According to Ketterer, the training is invaluable.

"We can practice this stuff at home all day long, but until there are enemy aggressors in the air and a range like they have here, it's difficult to train to this level," the 14-year veteran pilot said. "That's why this is the premier training event in the

Stone pointed to the unit's seamless integration and training with Army airborne operations as critical to winning the fight.

"You win part of the war in the air with the fighters, tankers, etc," the colonel said. "But the Army will tell you that you don't really win the war until you're on the ground and that's true. The Air Force will fight and gain air superiority. But the reason we even have and want air superiority is so that the ground troops can then take the land."
Ketterer echoed the commander's words.

"We have developed and matured our relationship with the Army," Ketterer said. "That's why it's important to integrate with them with this type of training. We've seen more and more Army participation with Red Flag and that's huge because ultimately what's our purpose if not to support the guys on the ground?"

Stone said he's happy the aircrews are encountering challenges in the "war" because learning how to overcome is how they will survive in real combat.

"It's been a steep learning curve for everybody here," Stone said. "Everyone is getting smarter everyday about staying alive and that's the focus."

According to Hodge, one part of the steep learning curve for the enlisted aircrew has been the pace of the war.

"One thing that's definitely unique about Red Flag is the tempo of operations," Hodge said. "It's higher than back at home. Here it's show up, get out there, get it done. It's especially valuable for the junior enlisted. They haven't been to a combat

Aircrews aren't the only ones who benefit from the Red Flag-Alaska experience. Exercises provide an operations training environment for participants such as unit-level intelligence experts, maintenance crews and command and control elements.

"We brought a huge support element," Stone said. "We brought maintainers, security forces, dining facility personnel, intelligence guys and the whole package. Those individuals are getting invaluable experience as well."

"This is some of the best training in the world and some of the best flying I've ever seen," Ketterer concluded. "We will definitely be more prepared to accomplish our mission when we leave here."

Department Announces Facilities Adjustments in Europe

American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 23, 2014 – The Department of Defense announced today that it will fully return 21 sites to their host nations in Europe, saving the U.S. government approximately $60 million annually, according to a DOD news release issued today.

This return is part of a continued effort for U.S. European Command to shed non-enduring and excess sites from its real-property inventory, and focus more resources on other USEUCOM mission requirements. These minor, non-operational infrastructure adjustments -- which include a golf course, a hotel, a skeet range, and other non-operational or excess facilities -- were vetted under the months-long European Infrastructure Consolidation review.

“None of these adjustments affects existing force structure or military capabilities, and the efficiencies will further enable U.S. European Command to resource high priority missions,” Pentagon Press Secretary Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby said in the release.

Eucom’s forward presence is one of the United States’ most visible indicators of support to our European allies, providing assurance and demonstrating tangible commitment to our collective defense, the release said. U.S. dedication to our NATO security responsibilities is beyond doubt; ongoing infrastructure adjustments simply ensure that we are best-positioned to fulfill those responsibilities given changing circumstances.

The following sites are scheduled to be returned to their respective host nation:


U.S. Army Garrison Bavaria

-- Garmisch golf course, Garmisch, Germany -- no longer needed.

-- Breitenau skeet range, Garmisch, Germany -- no longer utilized.

-- General Abrams hotel and dispensary, Garmisch, Germany -- no longer needed due to the presence of Edelweiss Lodge and Resort in Garmisch.

-- Frechetsfeld radio site, Grafenwoehr, Germany -- no longer required.

U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden

-- Wiesbaden recreation center, Wiesbaden, Germany -- no longer required.

-- Fintherlandstrasse family housing, Wiesbaden, Germany -- no longer needed as adequate off-post housing is available and less expensive.

-- Kastel housing area, Mainz-Kastel, Germany (in 2016) -- no longer required.

U.S. Army Garrison Rheinland-Pfalz

-- Closure of three American Forces Network (AFN) AM sites -- Heidelberg AFN relay facility, Sambach AFN facility, and Weisskirchen AFN transmitter facility.

-- Hill 365 radio relay facility – alternate communications make this site unnecessary.

-- Three Sembach water well sites (Enkenbach Water System Annex #1, Neukirchen Water System Annex #1, Niedermehlingerhof Water System Annex #1).


-- The Giessen General Depot will no longer be required once The Army & Air Force Exchange Service distribution center relocates.

Spangdahlem Air Base

-- Siegenburg Range, Bavaria, Germany -- no longer in use nor needed in the future.


U.S. Army Garrison Vicenza

-- Tirrenia Recreation Site -- no longer required.

Navy South Bagnoli-Naples

-- Former NATO headquarters facility -- no longer required due to facilities consolidation.

NATO HQ Air Force South, Nisida Island-Naples

-- Provided support services – no longer needed.

Port Customs Office, Catania-Sigonella

-- Lease not renewed as part of facilities consolidation.


Karup Air Base

-- Munitions storage and airfield facilities -- no longer used or needed in the future.


National Support Element Larissa

-- Support services facility -- no longer required due to facilities consolidation.

United Kingdom

RAF Mildenhall

-- Ammunition storage annex -- facilities are not in use and not required.

RAF Feltwell

-- 15 housing units (partial return) -- excess housing requirements.


U.S. Army Garrison Benelux

-- Daumerie Caserne (in 2015) -- facilities consolidation. A small signal support element stationed there will move to a nearby location.

The difference between Memorial and Veterans Day

By Maj. Nicholas J. Sabula, Defense Media Activity

FORT GEORGE G. MEADE, Md. (AFNS) -- There are lots of reminders out there that Memorial Day is about more than a day off or barbecue. It's also about more than thanking everyone who served or waving flags. The truth is, many people confuse this day with Veterans Day.

This day is about one thing -- our fallen warriors.

Congress officially set Memorial Day as the last Monday in May. How ironic that we mark the start of our summer season of fun with the day devoted to the memory of those who perished in the fight for the principles of freedom.

Why is Memorial Day so important? Here are some thoughts:

One thing I think people tend to gloss over with this day -- these people died for freedom. While the semantics of how they died, why they died or where they died can become blurred by those seeking to minimize their sacrifice, the reality is that they died in serving the very country that allows for freedoms to belittle these heroes.

They gave of themselves, paying the ultimate sacrifice. This is the day for a grateful nation to remember their service and what it represented.

I think of the power in the memories we hold to the actions taken that were long forgotten by others.

I think of Marine Corps Maj. Megan McClung, who died while serving in Iraq. She embodied her personal catch-phrase of "Be bold, be brief, be gone."

I think of our Medal of Honor recipients, who all remind us that the recognition is not for them, but for their comrades who are no longer with us.

The greatest honor we can bestow is remembering their gift. For me, experiences have shaped how meaningful the day is.

Long, long ago, I served as a member of the honor guard, covering a three-state region of Wyoming, Colorado and Nebraska. Our team was incredible in the manner which we would drive for hours to the location, then suddenly put our game face on in preparation for a funeral. Except it wasn't a game to us.

The crisp folds in our nation's flag, the sharp salute and presentation to the family on behalf of a grateful nation, and the 21-gun salute that shattered the silence was only shared with sobs and strong hearts during that instance.

We honored their passing; but also gave reverence to their important honorable service to this nation.

Though the M-1 Garand rifle was heavy and the snow would be knee-deep at certain locations, we never lost cadence, never lost focus. Whether a bitter -40 degrees or a sweltering 100 degrees, they would become part of this day we now hold as a federal holiday.

Since then, I have been shaped by additional experiences of loss. Whether saluting a hero's flag-draped coffin as it’s carried onto a C-17 Globemaster III for their journey home, or experiencing the grief of learning of the loss of colleagues, it's never easy when it hits you.

It really struck home about four and a half years ago, while in Afghanistan.

I'm not going to go into the details, but I will say that personally witnessing the death of a comrade when there's nothing you could do stays with you forever. I don't talk about it much, but it's why the day is so important to me.

This day is for them and for those who served among them. For me, this day is also a time to reflect on all the sacrifice our military family as a whole has made.

Sgt. 1st Class Shannon's family back home will never be the same; they are now a Gold Star family. His Army unit felt his loss. While our military and our country continue on, Memorial Day is a reminder that he and all the heroes we have lost mattered.

Service and sacrifice. This is my day to reflect on those I've encountered and those I never will. This is a day to simply remember.