Day to remember our fallen, share stories of missing

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman S.I. Fielder
  • 347th Rescue Wing Public Affairs
Team Moody members gathered Friday at the base's Heritage Park to show respect to America's warriors who are prisoners of war or missing in action during National POW/MIA Remembrance Day.

The day of recognition is set aside to ensure the sacrifices of our country's POWs and those still missing in action are not forgotten, said Senior Master Sgt. Victor Johnson, 347th Mission Support Squadron and the event's narrator.

"As we gather this morning, let us be ever mindful of those American service men and women who are no longer able to share in this event," he said. "Let us be especially mindful of the continuing pain, sorrow and sacrifices of our heroes who wear the title MIA and POW plus the recent fallen patriots of terrorism, whose stories are still untold."

During the ceremony, one Team Moody pilot shared his story about becoming a prisoner of war for 19 days during Operation Desert Storm.

"I must admit it's difficult at times for me to recall my past experiences," said Lt. Col. Robert Sweet, 435th Fighter Training Squadron commander. "It is a little like picking at a scab for me. But when I'm talking to fellow warriors and Airmen - especially in a time of war - it's well worth it."

During his thirtieth mission over Southwest Asia, the then-first lieutenant's A-10 Warthog was shot down.

"It was a month plus into the war, and I was feeling indestructible," said the colonel.
"Unfortunately, I had a rude awakening that day when the Iraqis decided to get their act together. As a fighter pilot, when you realize you're bailing out because you were shot down, it's the worst feeling you could ever experience."

Although at times he may have felt like giving up, the colonel said it was his faith - faith in his training, faith in his country and faith in God - that kept him strong.

Colonel Sweet developed a faith in his training when he attended Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape training while at the Air Force Academy.

"I credit that training with saving my life," said the command pilot with more than 2,500 flying hours in the A-10, OA-10, AT-38B and T-38C. "It gave me the tools I needed in the 'jailhouse.' (Most) of the tricks they pulled, we had already talked about in training.

"In the nature of today's warfare, it's no longer aviators who have the sole threat of being captured," he said. "The reality is anybody can be captured at anytime in this war on terror."

During SERE training, each person is taught the importance of following the Military Code of Conduct. The code gives each person a basic guideline to follow if captured in a time of war.

"The Code of Conduct is there for a reason - follow it," said Colonel Sweet. "The code tells you to resist with the best of your ability."

After he was captured, he made sure he kept the code of conduct at the forefront of his mind and only gave his name, rank and serial number. The colonel said POWs cannot expect the enemy to be nice; they can expect to be beaten and tortured because they are seen as a valuable information source.

"They may bring a friend into the interrogation and tell you they will kill your friend if you don't share information," he said. "Keep faith in your brothers in arms. Almost everyone is going to break in interrogation at one time.

"When someone breaks, that doesn't mean you should ostracize them," said the colonel.
"Just find out what he said, so everyone can be on the same page."

When someone has to resist the enemy, Colonel Sweet said there is a fine line between showing too much and too little resistance.

"You have to carry yourself in a military manner, while still showing manners and respect," he said. "You cannot be too arrogant or too much of a wimp. You must stand tall and devoid yourself of your emotions.

"That's why basic training is the way it is," said the colonel who attended a 10-year reunion in 2001 with others who were captured. "The military wants to build up layers of scar tissue to make a person better in combat."

Although, everyone in the military doesn't receive SERE training, Colonel Sweet said people who are captured need to remain faithful in the abilities of the military. While he was captured, Army Gen. (ret.) Norman Schwarzkopf, the U.S. Central Command commander at the time, sat down with the enemy commander and said, "give us the POWs, or we're not stopping."

"I thought that was an outstanding thing for a leader to say," said Colonel Sweet. "It shows faith and trust in our people, and we're not going to leave anyone behind on the battlefield."

The last "faith" that helped Colonel Sweet through his capture was his spiritual faith. He said the power of prayer was revealed to him because everything he asked for in prayer was given to him.

"When you think your number is up, you need to have some spiritual faith to fall back on," he said to the ceremony's attendees. "Our thoughts and prayers must be with those who are still missing and their families."

Although the enemy may have a different faith, Colonel Sweet said he felt he received more respect because he held strong to his own beliefs.

"If you show you're a person of faith, they kind of respect that because they are also people of faith," he said.

POW/MIA day is a time to remember those people who allowed their faith to carry them through a difficult situation and prevailed, said Col. Kenn Todorov, 347th Rescue Wing vice commander, during the ceremony.

"We honor the many patriots like (Colonel Sweet) who have been prisoners of war, suffering unimaginable torment while serving in conflicts throughout the world in the defense of liberty, our great nation and all the freedoms we enjoy," said Colonel Todorov.

"I charge everyone to never forget the sacrifices of our POWs and those who are still missing," he said. "It is our duty to stand behind those who serve our great nation and do everything possible to account for those who do not return. For them, we will always be committed. For them, we will never forget."