REQUIEM: Luxembourg, US commemorate 70th anniversary of B-17 crashes

If you’ve recently seen a map of Europe, you may be forgiven if you can’t point out Luxembourg.

The tiny country, with its nearly 500,000 citizens, is not even a thousand square miles in area. To put that in perspective, Rhode Island is both bigger in size AND population.

Requiem: Luxembourgers, U.S. honor 70th anniversary of B-17 crashes

But the fact that the country is still on the map is a testament to the dedication of its people as well as the sacrifice of others made on their behalf during World War II.

It’s also not lost on many Luxembourgers, particularly as many towns throughout the countryside feature memorial sites in honor of those who gave their lives to ensure the nation remained free.

Requiem: Luxembourgers, U.S. honor 70th anniversary of B-17 crashes

Roger Feller, a Perlé, Luxembourg, native and honorary commander of the 52nd Operations Group, was 8 years old during the summer of 1944 — a summer marked by desperation, hope and eventual liberation. He recounted the time he met an American Soldier, a welcome sight for the young boy who spent years under Axis control.

“I handed him a bottle to drink, and he handed me back something black,” Feller said. “I showed it to my mother, and she told me to go ahead and eat it. That was the first time I ever had chocolate.”

Requiem: Luxembourgers, U.S. honor 70th anniversary of B-17 crashes

Feller’s culinary anecdote is just one among many stories from those who greeted the Allies after the liberation of Luxembourg in September 1944. But some of those tales don’t end with exchanging sweets or drinks — they often entail a loss of life on a grand scale.

Sadly, Feller’s town of Perlé is no exception. It serves as a shrine to freedom as well as a memorial for those who came from afar and later died there to preserve that same freedom.

Requiem: Luxembourgers, U.S. honor 70th anniversary of B-17 crashes

Considering there were nearly 5,000 U.S. B-17 bomber aircraft used in the war, the odds of two of them crashing into each other would seem inestimable. But as trivial as finding out that number may seem, no statistician could truly determine a quantity to measure the gratitude the Luxembourgers felt for them, even 70 years after a crash of that nature occurred.

More than 200 Luxembourgers, Americans and Germans gathered at Perlé July 12, 2014, for a memorial ceremony to celebrate the sacrifice of 18 fallen U.S. Army Air Corps Airmen. The Airmen served aboard two B-17s – “Curley’s Kids” and “Off Spring” – that collided above the skies of the city July 12, 1944.

Requiem: Luxembourgers, U.S. honor 70th anniversary of B-17 crashes

“We pause to give thanks to those who have shown the way of freedom by giving their own lives and heeding the call to defend Luxembourg,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Sean Randall, 52nd Fighter Wing chaplain, during his invocation. “Bless us all present here today as we honor those who gave their lives. Provide, protect and propagate freedom for this great country and throughout the world.”

According to the program’s flier furnished by the 385th Bomb Group Memorial and Museum, the aircraft assigned to the 8th Air Force flew from Great Britain with a target of Munich, located deep in the Axis-controlled south of Germany. Inexplicably, the two aircraft collided in mid-air over the city July 12, 1944.

Requiem: Luxembourgers, U.S. honor 70th anniversary of B-17 crashes

Of the 20 crewmembers on board both planes, only two would survive: Sgt. Larry Atiyeh from “Curley’s Kids” and Sgt. Robert McPherson from “Off Spring.”

The townspeople carried the bodies to a school — the place that would eventually become the 385th Bomb Group Memorial Museum. At the time of the crash, Luxembourg still endured Axis occupation. Yet, after the eventual liberation, Perlé held a memorial service at its church Oct. 17, 1944.

“I’ve had the fortune of being able to participate in several of these in this 70th anniversary of the liberation of Europe,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Noel T. Jones, vice commander of the U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa command. “Each of them is touching and reminds me and our armed forces of how truly grateful the men and women of the nations of Europe were for our American participation and those of our allies.”

Requiem: Luxembourgers, U.S. honor 70th anniversary of B-17 crashes

The general said he shared those experiences with many of his peers stationed in the United States who may have never been stationed in Europe.

“While this year is significant numerically, as the 70th anniversary, the emotion that is felt and expressed and thankfulness that is displayed by the nations and the cities and the men and women who were liberated by our allies and our forces is a daily occurrence,” he said. “They, along with I, share our gratefulness for your remembrance.”

Requiem: Luxembourgers, U.S. honor 70th anniversary of B-17 crashes

The memory of the fallen Airmen takes a center stage at the town’s 385th Bomb Group Memorial and Museum established in 1999. The museum features a collection of personal effects from the war including pieces of debris from the crash itself.

Requiem: Luxembourgers, U.S. honor 70th anniversary of B-17 crashes

“We honor them – we grieve for them – we give thanks for them and for the many thousands of others like them who left their homes and their families to venture far and wide in the defense of freedom and to fight tyranny,” said Thomas Gagnon, president of the 385th Bomb Group Association. “What [the citizens of Perlé] did 70 years ago for the crews of Off Spring and Curley’s Kids and for others lost in that war and your continuing dedication to their memories forever assures you a special place in our hearts.”

Requiem: Luxembourgers, U.S. honor 70th anniversary of B-17 crashes

The memorial ceremony concluded with a wreath laying at both the B-17 memorial in the town center as well as the one commemorating all local World War II victims from the village.

Requiem: Luxembourgers, U.S. honor 70th anniversary of B-17 crashes

“Today, we are here to stop, think of and celebrate the greatness and courage of heroes like these Airmen who left their blood here in Perlé,” said Jeffry Olesen, deputy chief of mission for the U.S. Embassy in Luxembourg. “We have a duty and an obligation to remember the fallen soldiers of World War II. We must never forget the sacrifices they made in the name of freedom, and we must continue to tell the stories of those tragic days to a younger generation. The fact that so many people are gathered here today symbolizes and celebrates the enduring friendship between our two nations and its people. We must guarantee that the values of friendship, liberty and peace for future generations.”

Requiem: Luxembourgers, U.S. honor 70th anniversary of B-17 crashes

After the ceremony, the townspeople hosted their guests for dinner at an establishment that once served as a clinic for Soldiers under the command of U.S. Army Gen. George Patton. The gathering for the local cuisine also marked a unique observance as both American and German guests – the leading nations on opposite sides of the conflict decades ago – came together as long-standing allies to pay tribute to the fallen war dead.

Requiem: Luxembourgers, U.S. honor 70th anniversary of B-17 crashes

That opportunity to bring the descendants of the two nations to Luxembourg may have been a fitting tribute to Luxembourg, a small country with a rich history of persisting endurance. Yet, for Feller, the occasion stood to bring focus on those men on board those aircraft 70 summers ago.

“This is a day to celebrate the lives and legacy of those 18 men,” Feller said. “I’ve been able to live a life in freedom and peace because of what they gave for me and my village. We must never forget them.”

Requiem: Luxembourgers, U.S. honor 70th anniversary of B-17 crashes

Crew of the Off Spring B-17 G / 42-31917
Capt. Richard B. White
2nd Lt. Patrick J. Flanagan
2nd Lt. Clarence E. Gittins
Flight Officer James W. Johnston
Staff Sgt. Marvin W. Nieman
Staff Sgt. Harry E. Fitzwater
Staff Sgt. William Lord, Jr.
Staff Sgt. Homer Comegys
Staff Sgt. Samuel L. Canter
Staff Sgt. Robert P. McPherson (Survived)

Crew of Curley’s Kids B-17 G / 42-102606
1st Lt. Robert L. McDonald
2nd Lt. Stephen F. Ryan
2nd Lt. William T. Henry
Flight Officer Francis M. Chrisman
Staff Sgt. Russel Hale
Staff Sgt. Peter J. Heffernan
Staff Sgt. Walter R. Berosh
Staff Sgt. Peter Linton
Tech. Sgt. George E. Brown
Staff Sgt. Larry Atiyeh (Survived)

Requiem: Luxembourgers, U.S. honor 70th anniversary of B-17 crashes

To see more photos from the event, visit Spangdahlem’s Flickr Page.

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The power of words – Anne Frank’s 70-year echo

I’ve been told more than once that I have an unusual desk at work. I can’t lie about this—I try to make it stand out with my books, photos and knick-knacks. I mean, how often would you see a Theodore Roosevelt action figure, a Chris Farley bobblehead, a plaque of John F. Kennedy, and pictures of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Harry S. Truman and in the same place?

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Well, I feel this eclectic mix represents what I value or symbolizes the traits I wish to emulate at work and in my life. But, given the complaint of a potential eye sore, if I had to keep just one item by my desk, it’d be a simple postcard I got 12 years ago that has a special meaning to me.

It’s an illustration of Anne Frank, sporting a yellow star while writing in her diary, with her signature and the following excerpt from her world-renowned diary: “…in spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.”

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The card came from the Holocaust Museum and Memorial at Washington, D.C, which I visited in March 2003. At the time, I was a high school student with my family stationed in Germany. I’ve found a mixture of hope and solace in reading that statement, written by Frank in the most trying circumstances July 15, 1944, just weeks from their eventual capture by Axis forces.

Now that I’m stationed in Germany, I’m glad I had the opportunity to go to Amsterdam July 5, 2014, as part of the 52nd Force Support Squadron’s Information, Tickets and Travel tour, to see Anne Frank’s House and a nearby statue in her memory. While preparing for this trip, I re-examined the significance of this card and statement, particularly nearing the 70th anniversary of when she wrote it.

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Like many of you, I first learned about Frank in elementary school. My fourth-grade teacher, Mr. DiJohn, used his lectures to paint these sweeping images of troop movements across Europe as well as details about the deals made and broken by national leaders as the war unfolded.

Who needed “Star Wars,” Saturday morning cartoons or comic books? We’d learn about Allied heroes like Chester Nimitz, Audie Murphy and Dwight Eisenhower as they were pitted against villains like Hitler, Tojo and Mussolini. Those sessions were captivating to me and my fellow 10 year olds’ active imaginations, and we couldn’t wait to hear how the war would unfold.

But our collective attention truly focused when Mr. DiJohn shifted gears, moving from grand-scale international battle outlines to talking about one Jewish girl and her family in Amsterdam. It was the classic macro vs. micro approach to highlighting a conflict that made any narrative so compelling – “here’s the story of the War from a kid’s perspective – a kid like me?!”

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Now, I’m not Jewish nor am I a girl, but those traits never diluted how her life story about how war can transform anyone, even if they’re not a soldier. Reading excerpts from her diary and watching the film about her family’s ordeal stuck with us longer than reciting battle dates or country’s leaders. She was a kid, just like us, who displayed courage and optimism in hard times not through bullets or brutality but through her words in a journal.

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The Holocaust is a heavy subject to teach children at any age. We knew the Axis powers were evil — we just had no idea how much until we read from her stories of fear of potentially going to a concentration camp. We didn’t grasp appreciation of extravagances we took for granted until reading how excited she was to receive things like slices of cheese and jam for holiday presents instead of 16-bit video game consoles (hey, I was in the fourth grade in 1994).

While we’ve increased our video game capabilities since 1944 and 1994, we’ve also expanded our outlets to broadcast our innermost thoughts. Now that I’m going to be 30 soon and work as a photojournalist for the Air Force, I wonder how Anne Frank’s story would have fared in an age of social media, with Tweets and blogs and status updates?

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Or, in an age of #Selfies aimed at getting a multitude of “likes” and celebrity relationship statuses absorbing so much attention, would her thoughts about hiding in fear and feelings for fellow housemate Peter have carried less meaning? Furthermore, would anyone have paid attention to her in the current cacophony of celebrity-driven drivel?

But even though it was 70 years ago and before our technological terms, Anne Frank had one key qualification to demand anyone’s attention today: She was being herself.

She was hopeful even when she had every reason not to be. She reserved that notion for all people — I assume even the people who created the conditions forcing her family into hiding.

She shared her feelings on family, faith and equality not as a platform for a social movement, but as a reaffirmation to herself of what she believed in and what she would work for if she was given a chance.

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Sadly, she wasn’t able to achieve her dream. She was captured, sent to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp and died there sometime in March 1945—just days before its liberation by the Allied forces. But her words lived on as an example for others on how they could make the most of their lives with the power of words and ideals — the very same notions that she chose to believe “in spite of everything.”

Interestingly, she stated if she lived past the war that she wanted to be a journalist. And, in re-reading her diary ahead of my trip to Amsterdam, my mind went back to that classroom lecture with Mr. DiJohn and my class.

Then it hit me. Subconsciously, I realized from reading about her aspirations when I was 10 I formed mine as a writer one day, too.

I like to think that Anne’s favorite book would have been the same as mine: a blank one. While bearing nothing but empty pages, they serve as ones we can write our thoughts and dreams. Whether anyone else reads them doesn’t matter – but if they do, the words should speak about the writer as much as they do on their own.

While seeing her statue and former home, I realized that we may try to build legacies that outlast our lifetimes … in the end, it’s something more simple, like our words, that last forever.

Our words matter — let them stand for something, but let it be for something good.

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The sentence from “The Diary of a Young Girl” is used with approval from the Anne Frank House. No copyright infringement intended. To learn more about the Anne Frank House, www.annefrank.org. For more information on the 52nd FSS trips, visit www.52fss.com.

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Been There, Done That gets EXTREME!

Usually when you take a bunch of lunatics screaming, “extreme!” every five minutes, you’ve got all the essential elements of a plot for a reality TV show. Throw said band of lunatics in a raft, paragliding harness, or repelling rig, and you’ve got the makings for a pretty awesome weekend in Austria. Did I mention I was one of those lunatics? Extreme!

Outdoor Recreation’s Extreme Weekend trip to Austria includes white water rafting, canyoning, and your choice of paragliding or sky diving. It’s an adventure a step above your average city tour when it comes to thrills and adrenaline. In some cases, it was more of a leap off a mountain then a step.

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Austria never failed to take my breath away, no matter the angle I viewed it from, and this trip certainly offered plenty of opportunities to look. Whether I was repelling down a waterfall or floating 3,000 feet in the air, Austria offers so much more than can fit into a single weekend. I came back with some bruises, amazing memories, and dozens of things I still wanted to do.

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So if you’re looking for an adventure on the wild side, why not plan your own extreme weekend trip or check out what Outdoor Rec has to offer. I might have been to Austria, but I’m certainly not ready to cross it off the done list just yet. I’ll hold off on the extreme adventuring for a while though and try out something a little more relaxing instead. Kayaking anyone?

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Oh Snap! Vol. 11

Greetings Saber Nation and welcome to another edition of Oh! Snap! We gathered the best photos of the month that captured the hard work our Spangdahlem Airmen do on a daily basis. Check out the accomplishments you’ve made this month defending our nation’s freedoms while building partnership capacity every single day!

606th ACS returns

Airmen from the 606th Air Control Squadron return from joint NATO training in Poland.

52nd CES Explosive Ordnance Disposal

Members of the EOD team demonstrate some of their capabilities for 52nd Mission Support Group leadership.

Diamond Sharp Breakfast 23 June 2014

Fifteen Spangdahlem Airmen received special recognition for exemplary performance as part of the First Sergeants Council Diamond Sharp recognition program.

'This is SO Awesome!' 52nd CES Career Day

Hundreds of School Age Program children honked car horns, moved bulldozers and scooped up dirt in various heavy equipment vehicles during the 52nd Civil Engineer Squadron’s Career Day.

Sabers jog for Joe during memorial 5K

Sabers Jog for Joe during memorial 5K run.

Decontamination Exercise - 23

Spangdahlem medics participate in decontamination training.

Polish community embraces US Airmen

Spangdahlem Airmen were invited to the Lask Special Education School’s summer festival, in Poland.

"Freedom is never free"

U.S. Air Force Airmen and Polish citizens of Lodz honored fallen Airmen at the spot they were buried in 1945 with a new memorial.

US Airmen support combined exercises with NATO

A 52nd Logistics Readiness Squadron fuels distribution operator runs a fuel hose out to refuel a returning U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter aircraft at Lask Air Base, Poland.

US Airmen support combined exercises with NATO

Polish fire rescue men stand watch over U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter aircraft refueling operations at a hot refueling pit at Lask Air Base, Poland.

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‘Let me take a selfie’: World Cup style

GOALLL!!!! Cheering, frustration, gripes and grumbles followed the German goal.

Everyone’s eyes were glued to the TV screens with the sound of the game pumping, people were gasping in excitement at every attempt on the goal, and I thought to myself, “This is so cool!”

I was hanging with friends at the Saber Sports Lounge watching the U.S. take on Germany while in Germany, in a pivotal World Cup match alongside both Americans and Germans. That’s when I asked myself, is this one of those #selfie moments?

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U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Alex Bushway (left), 52nd Logistics Readiness Squadron, traffic management journeyman from West Branch, Mich., takes a “selfie” with his co-workers, U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Ruben Lozano, 52nd LRS quality assurance technician, from Chicago, Ill., and U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Scott Holmes, 52nd LRS cargo movement supervisor from Modesto, Calif., during the World Cup showing at the Saber Sports Lounge at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, June 26, 2014. The event brought local nationals and U.S. service members together to root on their nation’s team as Germany beat the U.S. 1-0.

Whether you like the popular “#selfie”-promoting song by The Chainsmokers or not, being overseas does lend itself to lots of opportunities including travel and experiencing moments that you can tell your friends about for the rest of your life. Going to the World Cup in Brazil? Priceless. The next best thing might be getting together with some of your rowdy friends and rooting on your team in another country–particularly, in the same country of your rival.

“It’s rare and I appreciate it,” explained U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. John Denny, 52nd Maintenance Group weapons load crew chief from Farmington Hills, Mich. “It’s a diverse experience.”

Sabers packed the place and some even took a selfie to remember an experience that not too many people get to experience.

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U.S. and German soccer fans gather to watch the World Cup match between the U.S. and Germany at the Saber Sports Lounge at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, June 26, 2014. Several base locations televised the game that ended in a 1-0 score in favor of Germany. Both teams advance to the next round.

I was just planning on watching it at home on the American Forces Network with my wife and two kids who would most likely not be as interested in the game as I would be, but then I thought, “how cool would it be to see it in the midst of several people I have something in common with? Not only is there a military family tie here, but we all hold the same love for our country, especially when bragging rights are on the line.

“It’s neat,” said U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Matt Alcala, 52nd MXG weapons load crew member from Navarre, Fla. “Especially in Germany, it’s really cool since German local nationals can come and enjoy the game with us.”

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U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. John Denny, 52nd Maintenance Group weapons load crew chief, takes a “selfie” with Senior Airman David Gondek, Aircraft Maintenance Squadron weapons load crew member, while watching the U.S. soccer team play Germany at the Saber Sports Lounge at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, June 26, 2014. Several U.S. service members and German local national attendees showed their pride for their nation’s sports teams during the World Cup matchup.

So even though the game seemed uneventful and ended up with a low 1-0 score in favor of Germany, either way, the evening was definitely a selfie moment to commemorate a special instant in time. #Brazil2014 #selfie #worldcup2014

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‘This is SO Awesome!’ CE Career Day

(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joe W. McFadden/Released)

 “HONK! HO-O-O-O-O-ONKKK!!!!”

(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joe W. McFadden/Released)

“THU-U-U-U-UDDDD!!”

(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joe W. McFadden/Released)

“WO-O-O-OW!!!”

Given the noise emanating from the vehicles on the field, passers-by may have given the operators a bit more leeway.

Yet upon closer inspection, they’d see the people moving those expensive bucket trucks, backhoes and excavators weren’t Airmen or contractors but children from the 52nd Force Support Squadron’s School Age Program.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joe W. McFadden/Released)

More than 100 children participated in the 52nd Civil Engineer Squadron’s Career Day outside the SAP building June 18.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joe W. McFadden/Released)

The squadron hosted the event to provide children with an insight into the work their Airmen do for the 52nd Fighter Wing every day.

But according to U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. James Wilson, 52nd CES electrical systems craftsman and Newport News, Va., native, the day had a much deeper meaning than it appeared on paper.

“When I was a young kid, I really didn’t have a lot of direction in what I wanted to do,” Wilson said. “I notice a lot of kids don’t really know what’s going on in CE or the things that we provide to the base and the mission. Everybody loves big trucks with loud noises and horns and things that make the earth move, so I figured they would like that, too.”

(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joe W. McFadden/Released)

CE Airmen brought out seven vehicles from their squadron, including a loader, an excavator, a dump truck, a grater and a bucket truck. It’s also the same equipment used to lay down the foundation for all the buildings on Saber Nation that house many of the children and the offices from which their parents operate.

“The main thing I wanted them to walk away with is you get cool trucks to play with, but it’s hard work,” Wilson said. “And for them to understand the dedication we give to the base and the service we provide and how important it is and they can be a part of something great too.”

“As a kid, when you’re in your backyard, you’re playing with Tonka toys,” said Senior Airman Lorrentis Oliver, 52nd CES heavy equipment operator from Richmond, Calif. “To be able to walk outside and have the real things sitting right there with the chance to sit in them, slam the buckets down, jump in the electrical trucks, go high in the air and then go back home and play with your toys — that’s a good day. I couldn’t do that as a kid, but I could tell by the look on their faces, when they go home and push their trucks in their backyard, they’ll think ‘I just sat in one of these today.’”

(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joe W. McFadden/Released)

“I went in a big huge truck and dumped dirt,” said Israel Kalu-Lucky, 6, son of U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Irisha Fayson, 52nd FSS. He later drew a picture of the excavator and pointed out, “I was in THAT!”

(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joe W. McFadden/Released)

“My favorite part was seeing the kids’ faces and their reactions when they went to every vehicle,” said Staff Sgt. Ernie Williams, 52nd CES fire alarm maintenance craftsman from Bailey, N.C. “My wife brought my three-year-old son out, and that’s all he talked about that afternoon. He looked at me, and it was the coolest thing ever.”

(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joe W. McFadden/Released)

“It was a lot of fun,” said Valencia Bustamante, 8, daughter of U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Patricia Bustamante, 52nd Maintenance Group, and Tech. Sgt. Vicente Bustamante, 726th Air Mobility Squadron. “I can’t decide what was the coolest because there was so much! It was very nice of them to do this.”

(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joe W. McFadden/Released)

“Hopefully, we’ll be able to do it again next year,” Williams said. “This was awesome. We didn’t expect it to be this big – it started off as an idea, and all the kids loved it.”

(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joe W. McFadden/Released)

“My favorite was hearing the kids shout out ‘Gotta Be – C! E!’” Wilson said. “Now they know C-E’s presence on the base. I love C-E and my job. For this to happen really means a lot.”

(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joe W. McFadden/Released)

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Proudly serving: Spangdahlem celebrates LGBT Pride Month

As the Department of Defense recognizes Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month for the first time in its history, Spangdahlem Airmen have worked hard to ensure those within the LGBT community are celebrated for their diversity and service. In support of Pride Month, we recently sat down with Staff Sgt. Richard Rodriguez, 52nd Dental Squadron and Spangdahlem LGBT Pride month committee president, to discuss what it was like being openly gay and proudly serving in the U.S. Air Force.

How young were you when you figured out your sexual preference?
I was a “late bloomer” as many would call it. I had female partners when I was younger — to be a part of the “social norm,” but it wasn’t for me. I became comfortable and accepting of myself when I reached the age of 22.

What was it like growing up? Were you accepted or ostracized?
Thankfully, I am a second generation “LGBT” member in my family. My aunt and uncle on my mother’s side paved the way for me. I saw my aunt, being active duty Navy at the time, become disowned by my grandparents and the rest of my family when she came out; but my mom and uncles stayed by her side. They taught me “love is love” from the beginning and it was something that my family shows today.

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Rodriguez with his mother, Veronica Lozano at an Oral Prophylaxis Assistance Course graduation, December 2008 at Kelly Air Force Base, Texas.

When you decided to join the Air Force, did you think you would have to hide your sexual preference or did you feel confident you would not have any issues being gay in the military?
I just wanted to serve my country and didn’t think I would find myself and have to protect it all at once. I had really great coworkers at my bases prior to DADT’s repeal. I felt love, support and trust in many of them, but still from fear when I came to terms with my identity I kept things to myself. There’s always that fear of what may come out from someone trying to defend you, or if you upset them, they could use that against you.

With the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, did you finally feel like you now have the same rights as other service members?
When the repeal of DADT came about, I was pretty involved in the Japan chapter of OutServe-SLDN, we knew it was a small victory, but we had a long way to go before we would become equal members of our respective services.

Editor’s Note: OutServe-Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) is a non-profit, non-partisan, legal services organization dedicated to actively serving LGBT military personnel and veterans. To find out more information on OutServe-SLDN, visit www.sldn.org.

This is the first time the Department of Defense recognizes Pride Month, how important is it for service members and their families to understand the diverse culture we have at Spangdahlem?
I feel it is very important as Americans and military members, to recognize and know who we work with, and who our neighbors and friends are. We are a country that proudly represents diversity, and by acknowledging the LGBT community we are cementing that foothold.

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Rodriguez with some friends at his Airman Leadership School graduation, May 2013 at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany.

There are a number of events planned this month — library readings, a discussion panel, an information booth at the Exchange and a bake sale. Do you have anything else planned that will help bring awareness to Pride Month?
We also have an event June 21 at PhantasiaLand near Köln, called FantasyPride. The park will have information booths about what our host-nation does for LGBT members in their communities. The park will stay open until midnight to host a celebration, provide performances and variety shows.

How important is it for you to see LGBT Pride Month succeed for years to come?
I feel it has been a success already. We had our information booth at the Exchange earlier this month and it was welcomed by many people. The community helped us raise $1,500 in two days, to help us plan future events. This is just the first step for us at Spangdahlem and I’m grateful to be a part of it.

What advice do you have for those who may want to “come out” but think they won’t be accepted in the military community?
Everyone fears the unknown — it played a huge factor for me while leading this month’s events. But once you get out there, you will see that people will embrace you. Spangdahlem has an amazing group of people on this base, active duty, civilians and family members, along with services such as the chaplains and the Airman and Family Readiness Center that are trained professionals and here support you. It made the difference for me and many others this month who stepped out to let our presence be known. Don’t let fear run your life.

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Rodriguez with other members of his German LGBT team after completing a Tough Mudder in July 2013.

Posted in Relationships, Spangdahlem, Support | 1 Comment

It’s all about perspective: 480th pilot shares personal cancer story

Editor’s Note: U.S. Air Force Maj. Bradley Sullivan is a pilot with the 480th Fighter Squadron, Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany.

In January 2009, my life abruptly arrived at a fork in the road. While my squadron was making final preparations for our six-month deployment, my wife was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer.

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We were living near Misawa Air Base, Japan at the time, and being a remote base, we were medically evacuated to Tripler Army Medical Center, Hawaii, for further testing. Sara was incredibly healthy; she taught aerobics and yoga, ate well and had minimal family history of breast cancer. The fact that she was diagnosed with breast cancer was shocking to us all.

If that was not a big enough surprise, two days prior to her mammogram, we found out she was pregnant with our first child.

In Hawaii, we had some major decisions to make. The doctors gave us three options for treatment. Option one: terminate the pregnancy and treat Sara “normally.” Option two: delay treatment until our child was born (eight months in the future). Option three: tailor treatment slightly, and proceed with surgery and chemo during the pregnancy.

We trusted that our God had a plan for our lives and chose the last option, having faith that our unborn child would be protected.

After two surgeries in Hawaii, we were medically moved to Randolph Air Force Base, San Antonio, where Sara could receive her chemotherapy treatments and I could continue flying. She underwent four rounds of chemo during the pregnancy and lost her hair, yet remained positive throughout.

It was after the second round of chemo we found out that we were going to have a daughter.

Pregnancy complications began after the final round of chemo, and there were numerous discussions about delivering an extremely pre-mature baby and supporting her in the neonatal intensive care unit.

But six months after we found out that Sara had breast cancer, our beautiful daughter Chloe Grace was born, seven weeks early: tiny, but healthy…A HUGE MILESTONE!

One week later, we were under our roof as a family of three. Sara had been experiencing significant headaches after Chloe’s delivery and sought out medical treatment. After being home for two days as a family, Sara had a seizure and was rushed back to the hospital via ambulance.

After a few days of uncertainty about what was happening, Sara’s health took a turn for the worse. The doctors told me that she had experienced a massive stroke.

Two weeks after delivering our healthy baby girl, Sara was declared brain dead and “went to be with Jesus,” as she had always described it. I was left to grieve the loss of my wife and learn how to be a dad to a pre-mature baby girl, while continuing to fly for and serve the needs of the Air Force. Needless to say, times were tough in late 2009 and into 2010.

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However, the Air Force family stepped up BIG TIME! We received so much support from the 435th Fighter Training Squadron and the community of Randolph AFB.

Chloe continued to grow and was such a joy to have. At times, I doubted my ability to care for her, but we continued to press on as a family. Single parenthood is not for the faint of heart. The days became weeks, weeks became months and the months became years.

My “new normal” was not how I had envisioned life, but I continued to trust that God had a plan for life.

Eight months after Sara passed away, Jenny, who was a widow who lost her husband to bone cancer six months prior to Sara passing away, reached out to me through a blog I created during Sara’s diagnosis. I followed up with the blog after Sara’s passing occasionally to keep family updated on how Chloe and I were doing after Sara passed away.

Jenny and I initially emailed back and forth, sharing experiences from our “grief journeys.” It was comforting to talk with someone who truly understood. Emails led to phone calls, which led to visits (Jenny was living in Sara’s hometown – less than a mile from the house where Sara grew up and where Sara’s mom still lived). Jenny had heard about Sara and my story from friends of hers who knew Sara’s family.

We dated long distance (Houston to San Antonio) until our marriage in May 2011. She had two children and with our marriage, we became a family of five.

A year after our marriage, Jenny was pregnant and delivered our fourth child in early 2013. We arrived at Spangdahlem Air Base as a family of six in October 2013 and are looking forward to our European adventures.

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Throughout this journey, I’ve learned numerous life lessons:

1. You cannot always control what happens to you, but you are always responsible for and accountable for your actions.

2. When times are tough, it is easy to get focused on your difficulties. No matter how bad the situation, there are others going through tougher times than you, and if you look hard enough, there are always things to be thankful for. It’s all about PERSPECTIVE!

3. You do not know what you are capable of until you are face- to-face with significant trials.

4. It is okay (and healthy) to ask for help. Pride tends to get in the way, but people want to help.

Posted in Relationships, Support | 10 Comments

Catch your breath in Ireland

Exploring Ireland

If you haven’t stopped in your tracks, had your breath catch in your chest or just said, “WOW!” lately, then you might be due for a trip to Ireland.

After just returning from a four-day trip to the beautiful emerald isle, I keep wondering what took me so long to visit here.

Our trip began in Dublin with a day of tours and shopping. You can walk the length of the city in about 35 minutes, so we didn’t bother with trains or buses. Dublin was great! Everyone was very kind and helpful. If you even looked lost, it would be the norm for a local to approach you and ask if you need directions.

Exploring Ireland

The first of three rainy days passed quickly, but we found our refuge in great shops restaurants and pubs. The food was wonderful but not diet-friendly in the slightest. The prices could be pretty steep, so if you intend to indulge, be prepared to pay. An average meal was around 15-20 Euro and the average pint of beer was about 5.50 Euro.

In fact, most things were pricy. An hour parking on the streets of Dublin was more than two Euro, but I would recommend you pay extra because we ended up with a clamp on our tire which cost us an additional 80 Euro. Don’t let this happen to you!

While that was a bit of a damper, we were still excited for our country road trip driving on the opposite side of the street!

A trip to the Irish countryside felt much like stepping into the 1800s. Castle ruins scattered the land, all the fields looked untouched by people, only grazed upon by the cows, horses and sheep. The grass looked to be a mixture of many different textures, colors and heights. Each plot of land was surrounded by a waist-high, hand-built rock wall. The rock walls, too, were partially covered in moss and vines as the untamed beauty of the greenery continues to claim the land.

Exploring Ireland

The drive was incredible! Everywhere I looked, I found myself pointing out hills or horses or making comments about the landscape. Luckily for me, we had plenty of road to cover.

We traveled to the quant city of Kilkenny on our way to the Blarney Castle. It was all family shops, restaurants and pubs. The smells were enough to fill you. I partook in an especially amazing shepherd’s pie, filled with ground beef, gravy, mushrooms and peas, topped with mashed potatoes.

Exploring Ireland

I needed a nap after the meal for the next leg of the journey, but just a couple hours later, we found ourselves at the Blarney Castle. There we toured the grounds and beautiful gardens before making our way to the top to kiss the Blarney Stone in hopes to be bestowed with the gift of eloquence.

The stone was on the top level of the castle and in order to reach it, you had to lie on your back and lean far over the edge in order to place your lips on the much-kissed stone. A couple gentlemen by the stone helped us through the processes for no charge other than tips. I am frightened of heights but it turned out fine. Just don’t look down until you’re safely on your feet.

Exploring Ireland

Following the castle, we made our way to Cork where we stayed for the night. We were a bit tired from the day of travel so we chose to not brave the crowds of drunken soccer fans watching a finals game, so we were home early. If you decide to go out, dress up. I don’t know why, but everyone seemed to be wearing their Saturday night best.

Sunday breakfast was held at the Blackrock Castle in Cork pictured below.

Exploring Ireland

Sunday was the highlight of the trip where we made our way to the Cliffs of Moher. We were most excited about this part of the adventure, but the ride there was my favorite part! The country roads were narrow and scenic. I would suggest renting a very small car like we did.

The parking and entrance to the cliffs cost a very reasonable six Euro each and was worth every cent! The views around it in Clare County were the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. You could smell the fresh air of the country and the sea. The walk to the cliffs wasn’t too difficult, but the views could move you. I ventured to the cliff’s edge where I looked down more than 700 feet to the Atlantic coast below.

Exploring Ireland

If I could suggest anything to anyone looking to travel to Ireland, I would say to spend a full day in this area. It was gorgeous, just look at the photo above! The best photo times are said to be around sunrise and sunset, but there is much to do in the meantime for country leisure people such as myself including horseback riding, a golf course and outdoor restaurants. I spotted many bed and breakfasts as well.

This was my favorite vacation yet. I hope you find yourself in Ireland soon!

Exploring Ireland

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Berlin: A city of surprises

Berlin travel

(Graffiti decorates what remains of this section of the wall in East Berlin)

At first glance of the huge and vastly modern city of Berlin, it is hard to believe that less than 25 years ago it was divided.

My most recent traveling adventure was to Berlin. You can almost see the layers of history in the architecture, but walking the streets you may associate it with a popular American city.

It is good to gain perspective from time to time when living in a different country. As a service member living in such a peaceful country, it is easy to forget what brought us to Germany in the first place, but Berlin serves as a monumental reminder.

Berlin travel

(Brandenburg Gate attracts tourists as the former gate to the city)

When I started planning my trip to Berlin, my list of things to see included the Berlin Wall, The Brandenburg Gate and Checkpoint Charlie. I thought back to my history lessons and assumed I would see a city as old and war-warn as the photos always showed.

History taught us of Berlin’s role in both world wars, the division of the city and the fall of the wall during the Cold War; I assumed the city would still show the impact of such hardship. I was wrong. The city of Berlin is huge in every sense of the word! It is one of the most modern cities I’ve ever traveled to.

Berlin has a feeling of a freshly remodeled home; everything looks new, but it still holds much of its old charm and you can easily see the past peak through with numerous memorials.

Berlin travel

(This church serves as a reminder of the destruction of the city after the war)

We only had about 24 hours in the city to fit the trip into just one weekend. The drive there, including our gas stops, took us about 7 hours, but we were lucky not to hit traffic. We were less lucky on the way home when the drive took more than 10 hours.

With our limited amount of time, we opted for a hop-on-and-off bus tour. This is the second time I’ve used this form of transportation, and I was grateful for it! Unless you are a skilled navigator and historian, I recommend a tour of some sort as Berlin holds so much!

Berlin travel

We saw the capital building, Museum Island, synagogues and churches. We stumbled across city festivals and found free exhibits.

One of the exhibits we visited was the Topography of Terror which served as a photo documentary of the Nazis. The exhibit was built where the headquarters of the Secret State Police was once located.

What I enjoyed most was visiting Checkpoint Charlie. It was the one of the most famous crossing points for the Berlin Wall and still stands. Being the tourist I am, I paid to take photos with them and then got my passport stamped.

Berlin travel

We saw all the historical sites, but also found time to experience shop, eat, roam, make friends and figure out the local train system which runs all night on weekends.

While the drive was a deterrent on me going to visit, I encourage everyone to see Berlin. The city will surprise you.

Berlin travel

Posted in Been There 2014, Been There, Done That! | Leave a comment