By Ken Carter
More than 60 Academy enlisted Airmen joined other Colorado-based military members, as well as Denver police and firefighters, in a patriotic tribute during the Colorado Rockies 2009 season home opener at Coors Field in Denver April 10.
The U.S. military’s rendition of the Mile High salute was provided by a combination of Soldiers from Fort Carson, Airmen from the U.S. Air Force Academy and Buckley Air Force Base and U.S. Navy and Marine recruiters and Coast Guard members from the greater Denver area. Local police and firemen also joined forces in the tribute. The total team of more than 250 ceremoniously unfurled Old Glory (as big as a football field) across Coors Field during a pre-game event which also included a balloon release, streamer drop and a thunderous flyover of four F-16 Fighting Falcons from Buckley AFB.
For the sixth consecutive year, Academy Chief of Community Relations Eddie Lee has facilitated Academy representation that continues to grow every year.
“My first year of involvement was 2002; the show choir sang the national anthem and I took a falconer and cadet,” he said.
By 2004, the Academy’s representation had increased to 30 enlisted members to help unfurl the flag.
“This year’s group of 62 enlisted members once again did us proud showing off our great Air Force for a record-setting opening day crowd.”
The Academy is most widely known across the United States as a military university and thus, also for the cadet population. Mr. Lee sees this annual event as an opportunity for the enlisted members assigned here to also be recognized for their outstanding contributions toward performing the Academy’s mission year round.
“My office is involved in a lot of activities with the community, and many folks here get to participate, mostly cadets and officers,” he said. “This is the only event every year I can dedicate to our enlisted force. Academy Command Chief [Arvin] Davis is a tremendous supporter. When I asked for help, he immediately notified all Academy chiefs and first sergeants and told them what a great deal this is for our enlisted members.”
The Academy’s participants ranged in grade from airman basic to senior master sergeant with members representing a diverse array of Air Force careers.
Senior Master Sgt. Robert Nolen, the ranking member on the trip to Coors Field, said, “It was inspirational to see and hear 50,000 fans provide the welcome we received.” The 20-year veteran from Syracuse, N.Y., won’t be able to volunteer next year as he’s en route to Korea soon.
“I will highly recommend it to others, though,” Sergeant Nolen said.
“Talking to fans in the stands … all with whom I spoke were very thankful for the sacrifices the men and women in the Armed Forces and first responders make on a daily basis. So many people just walked up and thanked me for my service,” the senior NCO from the Academy Plans and Programs staff said. “It will be one of those USAFA memories I will remember for the rest of my life.”
With only a year in service, Airman Matthew Baker from the 10th Medical Group echoed the senior NCO’s thoughts.
“It was incredible – having all the fans cheering for their armed forces was very emotional,” Airman Baker said. “To me, the best experience was the fans thanking us for our service as we walked through the tunnel.”
As a phase II radiology student here, Airman Baker will miss the big event next year as well. By then, the San Diego native will have transferred to Lackland Air Force Base. This single opportunity had quite an impact on him, however.
“Of course, not many people get the chance to be on the field for a professional baseball game opening ceremony,” he said.
An 11-year veteran and a group practice manager from the 10th Dental Squadron, originally from Camp Hill, Penn., Staff Sgt. Cindy Baker made her second appearance as part of the military contingent.
“I was honored to be there again to represent USAFA and to cheer on the home team,” Sergeant Baker said. “I loved the experience, watching the huge flag wave, watching the game, the smell of the ball park, and excitement of opening day and the roar of an appreciative and patriotic crowd.”
Sergeant Baker is taking advantage of the social media site Facebook, to share her story with friends.
“I told everyone there to be looking out for a picture in the near future.”
Mr. Lee was quick to identify the entire experience as “amazing.”
“Seeing the crowd’s response to the military presence was truly amazing,” he said. “Many of our volunteers remain in their uniforms after the opening ceremony as they watch the game, and fans approach them, shake their hands and thank them for their service to the country. It’s great to see that appreciation for all U.S. military folks in uniform.”