KENTUCKY AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, LOUISVILLE, Ky. --
Deployments are seldom easy. They exert substantial amounts of stress not only on the troops deploying, but also on the families and friends they leave behind.
On April 17, the Kentucky Air National Guard delivered a heart-felt "thank you" to the more than 900 men and women of the 123rd Airlift Wing who have deployed in support of combat operations since September 11, 2001.
That message, delivered during a "Hometown Heroes Salute" ceremony at Louisville Male High School, also recognized family members and key civic leaders for their support, including State Sen. David L. Williams and State Rep. Rocky Adkins.
Dennis M. McCarthy, assistant secretary of defense for Reserve Affairs, spoke at length during the ceremony about the essential contributions made by Guard and Reserve troops, which he called "tremendous."
"We've been averaging about 140,000 members of the Guard and Reserve mobilized every day," Secretary McCarthy told the audience of 300 Air Guardsmen, family and friends. "It's a tremendous, tremendous contribution that the reserve components are making to the national security of our country. It has been going on for a long, long time, but we cannot continue unless we continue to have the support of our families and our employers."
The Director of the Air National Guard sanctioned the ANG Hometown Heroes Salute program in August 2008. It provides Airmen with keepsakes in recognition of their service, including framed letters of appreciation and framed American flags. Spouses or significant others are eligible to receive engraved rosewood pen-and-pencil sets, and children receive commemorative dog tags with the HHS logo.
Each troop also receives a "Centers of Influence" medallion that they can present to whomever they choose to show gratitude for their support.
During the April 17 ceremony, Kentucky's adjutant general, Maj. Gen. Edward Tonini, personally presented Centers of Influence awards to three civic leaders who have expressed continuous support of the Kentucky Air National Guard since 9/11: Senator Williams, Representative Adkins and Thunder Over Louisville Air Show producer Wayne Hettinger.
The men each received a medallion and a special cased coin representing their commitment to the continued support of the 123rd Airlift Wing.
"It's my great pleasure today to honor the Commonwealth of Kentucky with the Department of Defense Center of Influence medal," General Tonini said. "Our state leaders have a long history of outstanding support of the men and women serving in the armed forces of the United States. This support dates back to the War of 1812 when Kentucky's first governor, Isaac Shelby, personally led Kentucky troops into battle. Ever since, Kentucky's civic leaders have always taken a personal interest in the welfare of military personnel in the Commonwealth."
In his acceptance speech, Senator Williams personally thanked General Tonini for keeping him informed of the needs of Kentucky Airmen. He also spoke of his admiration for Kentucky's service members and discussed his own family's history of military service, recalling how his father and uncles served in World War II. One of those uncles made the ultimate sacrifice, giving his life in defense of the country.
"I have a special place in my heart for the sacrifices families give, as I saw the sacrifices my grandmother gave throughout the rest of her life," he said. "During my time in the General Assembly, I've done everything I could to make sure we supported our military. I will assure you that, as long as I'm president of the Senate, the Air Guard and the military in the Commonwealth of Kentucky will always have a friend in Frankfort."
Representative Adkins conveyed his deep appreciation for the unsurpassed contributions of the 123rd.
"It's a great honor for me to spend my Saturday here with you to show my respect and appreciation for those who serve," he said. "I also want to thank all of you who have been deployed... those who have been in Afghanistan and Iraq and all around the world representing the foundation of what this great country is all about."
Mr. Hettinger's comments echoed those of the legislators.
"What you all have done for this community, for this country, is being looked at across the country," Mr. Hettinger said. "The honor for me is being accepted as a friend by the people I believe make this the greatest nation there is. I thank you, and I salute you for your dedication."
The Hometown Heroes Salute program is the direct result of over two years of efforts spearheaded by Kentucky's former state command chief master sergeant, Chief Master Sgt. Mark Grant, who modeled the initiative after the Army National Guard's "Freedom Salute" program.
"I liked the Army's program, and the Air Guard didn't have a similar program," he said. "It seemed like the right thing to do, and now it's the largest Airman recognition program in the Air Force."
For more information on the Hometown Heroes Salute program, visit https://airguard.ang.af.mil/hometownheroessalute