The greatest generation, then and now

  • Published
  • By Col. James C. Vechery
  • 22nd Air Refueling Wing commander
In his book entitled The Greatest Generation, Tom Brokaw honors the selfless heroes of World War II who sacrificed and gave everything to ensure we remain a free and prosperous nation. On the jacket he writes: 

"In the spring of 1984, I went to the northwest of France, to Normandy, to prepare an NBC documentary on the fortieth anniversary of D-Day, the massive and daring Allied invasion of Europe that marked the beginning of the end of Adolf Hitler's Third Reich. There, I underwent a life-changing experience. As I walked the beaches with the American veterans who had returned for this anniversary, men in their sixties and seventies, and listened to their stories, I was deeply moved and profoundly grateful for all they had done. Ten years later, I returned to Normandy for the fiftieth anniversary of the invasion, and by then I had come to understand what this generation of Americans meant to history. It is, I believe, the greatest generation any society has ever produced." 

I had the honor of spending time with members of the greatest generation Dec. 7 as I was invited to speak at the 67th Pearl Harbor Anniversary Observance at the Veterans Affairs Regional Medical Center, Wichita, Kan. As I was preparing to speak, I listened to Mr. Arthur Dunn, U.S. Navy retired, who was on the USS Oklahoma that fateful day in 1941. I then heard from Mr. Earl Schaffer, U.S. Army Air Corps retired, who was at Hickam Field as a member of the 72nd Bomb Squadron. 

Both spoke about their experiences and memories of that peaceful Sunday morning, which turned into a day of death and devastation and changed their lives forever. They spoke of the many heroic acts of our fellow Americans as our nation was attacked on our soil for the first time since the War of 1812, leaving 2,402 Americans dead and thrusting the United States headlong into a world at war. 

Then it was my turn to speak. 

When I approached the podium, my first comments were something to the effect; "How do you follow speakers like that, especially when you're supposed to be the keynote speaker? Talk about pressure!" 

I began by thanking them and all the veterans and their families for their service to our nation. It is because of their sacrifices that we are a free and great nation today. When our country needed them, they were there, and rose to the challenge. As you know, our nation's need for selfless and dedicated servants continues still. 

Team McConnell, you are following the greatest generation and our veterans from previous wars as we fight an enemy today that is different than any we have faced in past conflicts. On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, our enemy, in a manner just as cowardly and unprovoked as Dec. 7 1941, again struck the American people on our own soil, in a deadly terrorist attack aimed directly at the civilian population. 

President Bush stated in his address to Congress, "...enemies of freedom committed an act of war against our country. Americans have known wars - but for the past 136 years, they have been wars on foreign soil, except for one Sunday in 1941. Americans have known casualties of war - but not at the center of a great city on a peaceful morning...All of this was brought upon us in a single day - and night fell on a different world, a world where freedom itself is under attack." 

Team McConnell, you selflessly received the torch passed from previous generations of American heroes and you are fighting today's Global War on Terror with honor and courage. In my comments, I spoke of the many demanding and exciting things you are doing in today's fight. Here is a quick excerpt from my speech: 

"I realize this audience knows we've been a nation at war for over seven years now. As the Commander of the 22nd Air Refueling Wing, I am extremely proud to report that this generation fighting today is extremely courageous, dedicated, and taking the fight to the enemy. In fact, today over 400 members of Team McConnell are deployed around the globe fighting for our freedom. In the last four years alone, the KC-135 fleet at McConnell Air Force Base has flown 54,298 missions, offloading 491 million gallons of fuel to over 210,000 receiver aircraft and enabled 107,995 close air support sorties. 

But these brave men and women are doing more than just flying. I would like to share a story with you that I recently received from the front lines to give you a glimpse of what our men and women from Team McConnell are doing in today's fight: 

This story is from Lt. Col. Roman Hund at Joint Base Balad, Iraq. He writes: 

"The Air Force is about to take on a role as the lead support agency at the busiest Department of Defense airfield in the world, Joint Base Balad. There are McConnell Airmen in communications, finance, civil engineering, security forces, special forces, Red Horse, and various other units across the wing making a difference. Civil engineer Airmen are keeping the airfield clean and open for flight ops, fixing spalls, building helicopter landing pads for Army rotary operations, and installing and maintaining utilities for the base operation. Our communicators are providing postal operations, network control, and inside/outside cabling for one of our largest networks in theater. Airmen in the 532nd Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron are protecting our perimeter and battlespace outside the wire. There are two squads of security forces from McConnell providing law enforcement on base. Chaplain Travis Sears is working as a chaplain for the Expeditionary Red Horse Squadron, providing spiritual services to Airmen spread all over the Iraqi theater of operations." 

I am blessed with the privilege of leading you during this time of war. We are in a joint, total force fight and you are carrying on the proud legacy of honor left by the greatest generations that preceded us. As we look back and reflect on this year alone, it is clear you've done some remarkable things. Let's take a quick look: 


· 84 Team McConnell Airmen received Associate of Arts degrees from the Community College of the Air Force
· More than15 Air Mobility Command, Air Force, Department of Defense-level awards received by Team McConnell members and organizations
· Team McConnell pulled together to raise $7,500 for "A Miracle for Mackenzie" and raised $6,600 in just two hours for "Jordan's Hope"
· Family Festival of Fun took place with more than 2,500 participants
· Zero fatalities during 101 Critical Days of Summer; the first time in AMC history
· 507 Team McConnell family members attended the "From Berlin to Baghdad" Air Force Ball
· 600 Airmen took part in the Save-A-Life tour
· Team McConnell participated in community events such as the River Fest, Freedom Walk, Wings Over Wichita, the Wichita Marathon, multiple parades and countless civic events
· Recognized by Big Brothers/Big Sisters as one of the top five companies supporting their program in the Wichita area 


· Accumulated 23,851.5 flying hours in 6,712 sorties
· Off-loaded 17,229,668 gallons of fuel to 10,691 receivers to date
· Hosted President George W. Bush and multiple state officials during a presidential visit to Greensburg, Kan. following devastating tornadoes in that community
· Hosted General Lichte, AMC commander, Major General Hawkins, previous 18th Air Force commander, Major General Scott current 18th Air Force commander and many others during official visits to McConnell Air Force base and the 22nd Air Refueling Wing
· Received a rare "Excellent" rating on our Nuclear Operational Readiness Inspection evaluation with aircrew testing and C and I both rated "Outstanding"
· Transported 400 personnel and 102 short tons of cargo transported on nine missions to Volk Field, Wis. for our Expeditionary Operational Readiness Inspection where we proved we can do our wartime mission, earning an overall "Satisfactory" rating
· Received "Excellent" performance rating on Logistics Standardization and Evaluation Program inspection
· 22nd Operations Group completed successful Air Traffic System Evaluation Program with 96.25 percent total compliance
· AMC communications security inspection went very well as we led the command with 82 percent reduction in physical-to-electronic media transition
· 22nd Medical Group Health Services Inspection a success; the medical group was lauded as, "fully capable and committed!" 


· 22nd Force Support Squadron began operation with the deactivation of the 22nd Mission Support Squadron and re-designation of the 22nd Services Squadron
· Teamed to start a new aircraft wash contract to give valuable time back to our dedicated maintainers
· 22nd Operations Group began operating One Stop Mission Execution and the 22nd Medical Group commenced Medical One Stop to complete all annual requirements
· Hosted a Russian Federation Open Skies visit and validated our revamped, world-class facility
· Hosted the original 22nd Bomb Group for their annual reunion where the Greatest Generation met the latest generation 

Clearly, you are an amazing generation and very engaged in today's war. Simply put, our nation is counting on you and you are delivering. I will end with this quote from President Reagan. He said, 

"Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn't pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children's children what it was once like in the United States where men were free!" 

I challenge you with these words as you are now the greatest generation and the United States is counting on you to keep us free. I know you ready for this challenge. Thank you for your dedicated and selfless service to our nation. God bless you and the United States of America.