23rd Wing heritage: be proud of it, build on it

  • Published
  • By Col. Kenneth Todorov
  • 23rd Wing commander
A few weeks ago, I was struck when I overheard a conversation at the military clothing store. A women who I suspect was visiting, was looking for a T-shirt for her grandson's birthday. "Do you have anything with the Flying Tigers logo on it," she asked the clerk. "After all, John Wayne made a movie about them!"

While one can debate the historical accuracy of how Hollywood portrays our past, there's no denying the heritage we've been charged to protect is meaningful. Over the years Airmen have repeatedly demonstrated our value by fulfilling critical roles in our national defense protecting liberty and freedom around the globe. We've made it look easy, and yes, it's the stuff movies are made of.

But those of us who share in the profession of arms are bound by an obligation to study and understand our true past. Those stories both inspire and compel us to think about our future. What's more exciting for 23rd Wing Airmen is some of that inspirational lineage and heritage echoes here every day.

As 23rd Wing Airmen, we are the keepers of some of the most storied history and heritage our Air Force has seen. We proudly carry on today with our great mission following a trail blazed by some of the most heroic Airmen in our history. Men like Claire Chennault, David Lee "Tex" Hill, Bill Pitsenbarger, Jason Cunningham, and LeeBernard Chavis. All of us can be, should be, proud to wear the 23rd Wing patch symbolizing so many great risk-taking Airmen who have gone before us.

Great and heroic Airmen have preceded us in that task, but they will not be the last. Today, more than 6,200 23rd Wing Airmen based in five different states carry on those stirring legacies. We execute our mission knowing those who have gone before us built it on the rich heritage of valor, honor, courage and sacrifice. The 23rd Wing mission, Attack-Rescue-Protect, is a mission built on the heroic foundation of such legendary units as the world famous Flying Tigers, Jolly Green Giants, Combat Kings, Pararescuemen, and expeditionary security forces warriors operating "outside the wire" in combat every day.

Years from now, when our children's grandchildren look back on the events that shaped our time, they will undoubtedly point to 23rd Wing Airmen as having had a heavy hand in deciding what that future would look like. From the start of Operation Southern Watch in 1992, Airmen from our wing have been continuously deployed; and since the days immediately following 9/11, Airmen from our wing have been continuously deployed in combat. Think about that; every single day, someone from this wing has been engaged in combat operations ... more than 15,000 combat flight hours and more than 5,000 combat sorties ... truly remarkable! Twenty-third Wing Airmen aren't just in an AEF rotation, they're in every AEF!

Our heritage isn't just what's happened in the past, it's something we're building today. You too are part of something incredibly special. In accomplishing our mission as disciplined, agile, dedicated, combat-focused, and expeditionary 23rd Wing Airmen, you are fighting for the freedoms that generations to come will enjoy. Be proud of our heritage, and continue to build on it! It's fundamentally important to all of us as Airmen and critical to our future if we want to continue to enjoy the liberties we cherish as Americans; it's why I've included "heritage" on the Airman's card I've asked each of you to carry.

In this special year as we observe and commemorate 60 years of air and space power, let us not forget our proud 23rd Wing heritage. As we forge ahead toward a limitless horizon, be ever mindful the heritage we create for the future will be our own.