By Senior Airman Ryan Kuntze, 128th Air Refueling Wing
/ Published December 04, 2011
MILWAUKEE -- Work and routine duty are the staples of a military career.
However, respect and acknowledgement are hallmarks of military service.
Community members and a majority of the 128th Air Refueling Wing's Airmen hosted this year's Hometown Heroes Salute Campaign at Gen. Mitchell International Airport, here, on Sunday, December 4, 2011.
Col. Ted Metzgar, commander of the 128th Air Refueling Wing, offered his view of the award ceremony during his opening remarks from the stage in the base's maintenance hangar.
"This ceremony is not about the general officers, command chief, or special guests," Col. Metzgar said. "It is about you, who have sacrificed so much."
Col. Metzgar was specifically addressing more than 130 Airmen who have deployed to Southwest Asia or Western Europe in the past two years. His audience included the family members of award recipients, members of the 128th Community Council--civilians who work with the 128th Air Refueling Wing in the local community--and more than 600 of the Wing's Airmen.
Before departing the podium, Col. Metzgar called Command Chief Master Sgt. Joe Parlato and 1st Sergeant Mike Schmaling to center stage where they were presented with detailed swords purchased in Europe. The swords were set in hand-crafted wooden display cases, and they were given as reflections of the recipients' duty and service to both the 128th Air Refueling Wing and the 313th Air Expeditionary Wing.
"These guys, in a figurative way, slayed a lot of dragons," Col. Metzgar said. He clarified that the 'dragons' were the continuous and demanding rigors of working in a deployed location while being available to the deployed Airmen of the 313th Air Expeditionary Wing at all times and for all causes.
Brig. Gen. John E. McCoy, Wisconsin's assistant adjutant general for Air, spoke next, and he further recognized the Hometown Hero award recipients' contributions.
"It's important that we recognize the fact that you've deployed," Gen. McCoy said. "I truly appreciate what you do every day, either here or abroad."
After discussing the involvement of family members in a military member's deployment, Gen. McCoy offered a poignant appraisal of military service.
"We do the work America asked of us," he said.
Maj. Gen. Donald P. Dunbar, Wisconsin's adjutant general, addressed the audience with a perspective of high import.
"Our Air Force does amazing things every day," Gen. Dunbar said. "[But] the greatest Air Force on the planet could not do what it does without the Air National Guard."
Gen. Dunbar then turned his comments toward the award recipients.
"You stood up, volunteered, went to training, put on the uniform, and, when we called, you were ready," he said.
In his closing remarks, Gen. Dunbar added, "The price of serving is immeasurable."
All of the award recipients walked across the stage one at a time, and with their awards in hand, they shook hands with Maj. Gen. Dunbar, Brig. Gen. McCoy, Col. Metzgar, Command Chief Master Sgt. Parlato, and Larry Meyers, the 128th Community Council chairman.
Following the ceremony, several Airmen spoke about their awards and the Air National Guard's recognition of their overseas duty.
Master Sgt. Mike Schmaling, 1st Sgt. of the 128th Mission Support Group, said, "It's about the family. That's why we do what we do." Regarding the sword 1st Sgt. Schmaling received, he said, "It's overwhelming. I'd like to think we don't do this for the [reward]; I'd do it again . . . for free."
Master Sgt. Jeffrey Venus, a 128th Civil Engineering Firefighter, said, "[This award] is more for my family than for me." He added, "It's for their staying home while I was over there."
The Hometown Heroes Salute Campaign is an Air National Guard program that officially recognizes Airmen for their contributions to overseas missions, according to the Air National Guard's website. Airmen receive awards based on the duration of their deployments, and many of the 128th Air Refueling Wing's Airmen received a wood-framed letter of appreciation from the Air National Guard and an award for center of influence medallion, which is meant as a gift that can be offered to the person who most helped an Airman during his or her deployment.