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Lasting legacies

  • Published
  • By Lt. Gen. Stephen Wilson
  • Commander, Air Force Global Strike Command
Service and sacrifice are common bonds that unite us across generations with those who served before. Memorial Day is a special time for all Americans to reflect on the legacies of the men and women who've made the ultimate sacrifice while serving in the United States military.

To honor these men and women, it is our duty to ensure that their sacrifices were not in vain. It is our responsibility to uphold the same values our fallen brothers and sisters lived and died for. It is our privilege to continue to improve and get better as a Command, a service and an institution.

The 8th Air Force, 20th Air Force and Strategic Air Command heroes, from whom we draw our heritage, left us much to learn from and revere. Our lineage stems from World War II and the era that followed, boasting storied strategic bombing endeavors like the Mighty Eighth's "Big Week" in February 1944, in which Allied forces achieved air superiority over the German Air Force. Bringing hefty blows to Nazi-occupied Europe cost the Mighty Eighth more than 26,000 lives, while 576 Airmen serving in 20th Air Force lost their lives executing strategic bombardment in Asia and the Pacific.

The next generation of SAC warriors continued to answer their nation's call as the world entered the Cold War. While America faced the spread of communism and the proliferation of nuclear weapons, SAC kept stoic watch over our nation's security with land-based ICBMs and nuclear capable bombers, prepared to respond to aggression at a moment's notice. Conventionally, SAC showed the world a bomber force that provided the U.S. with global reach and global power.

In December 1972, President Nixon called upon that global reach and global power to bring peace through superior firepower. Over the course of 11 nights, B-52 crews led Operation Linebacker II, the aerial bombing campaign that ultimately forced North Vietnam back to the negotiation table and led to the January 1973 cease fire agreement, ending the Vietnam War. This endeavor for peace came at a price. Ninety-two SAC crew members were involved with downed aircraft, nine of whom sacrificed their lives executing the mission on behalf of their country.

While SAC's motto was "Peace is our Profession," the Cold War did not end without loss. An estimated 2,700 Airmen died in combat, reconnaissance, operational alert and training missions as SAC pioneered the concepts of strategic deterrence.

More than half a century after WWII, and just five years after stand-up, Air Force Global Strike Command is comprised of Airmen from multiple generations, bound by the same selfless service that has fueled the U.S. military since its inception. We relentlessly strive to improve ourselves and the way we do business, and we are determined to leave a legacy the next generation will be proud of.

Please take time this Memorial Day to think about why we are the greatest Air Force and military the world has ever seen. It is not the result of our equipment or technology. We are great because of our most effective and enduring weapon system, our people. I am thankful for the men and women, who since our birth as a nation have decided that serving our country and preserving our freedom is more important than the sacrifices required by doing so. May we continue to honor their selfless service and work to ensure that the next generation does the same.

Thank you, my fellow Strikers, for your service. Have a safe and reflective Memorial Day.