COLUMBUS AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. --
The badge commonly referred to as wings, sits over the heart of all aircrew in the U.S. Air Force.
Col. Brandon D. Parker, 7th Bomb Wing commander at Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, spoke to the Air Force’s newest pilots at Columbus Air Force Base about earning their coveted wings after completing over a year of training.
“I speak on behalf of all who wear these wings, that we are proud of everything you have accomplished, but more importantly are proud of what you will accomplish in the years ahead,” Parker said to graduates of Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training Class 18-07.
“To the graduates my remarks today are very straightforward and they center on these wings,” he continued.
He held a shining set of wings in front of the class, telling them what the wings symbolized in his eyes. He said it is much more than a badge. To Parker, it embodies the soul and the heartbeat of a community of warriors who have the desire to reach higher, push further and move beyond manmade limits.
“These wings, 3 inches in width, three quarters of an inch in height, consisting of a shield with the coat of arms of the United States of America,” Parker continued. “Resting on and surrounded by a pair of sprawling, beautifully winged appendages, worn right above the heart. One can’t help but grab the symbolism.”
Parker listed devotion, loyalty, duty, honor and skill as the attributes Air Force pilots carry through their lives and heritage.
“In 1917 winged pioneers broke through German clutches leading to an allied breakthrough in Northern France. In 1942 shortly after the tragic Pearl Harbor attack, these wings struck back, ushering in U.S. presence in World War II by launching 16 B-25’s from carriers. They dealt a psychological blow to the Japanese while bolstering the resolve of a heartbroken nation,” Parker paused. “From 1948 to 1949 these wings forced the Soviets to lift the blockade of West Berlin, and at the height of the Berlin Airlift a cargo plane landed with supplies every 45 seconds. Every 45 seconds; over 1,500 sorties a day, that’s what these wings delivered.”
He continued to tell of the many missions that U.S. Air Force pilots took part in since the begging in of military aviation until the present day. He told them everything they have learned can and will be used to continue to protect and defend the nation and its values. Graduation from pilot training is the beginning of their journey as a pilot, he told the class.
“These wings will get you to the fight, support you while you fight and bring you home from the fight,” Parker said. “The people who wear these wings come from all walks of life. … Some people call us fly-boys and fly-girls; fighter jocks and long haulers; zipper suits and bag wearers. They say we look like movie stars, rock stars and super models. They even call us real cool nicknames like ‘GQ.’ Beyond all that I know we come from all walks of life with different shades and hues, but deep down we bleed blue and we don’t apologize for who we are ever.”
He then spoke about the start of their careers, telling the students this graduation marks the beginning of their race to the finish. He told the class to keep in mind three things with them as they grow as leaders and pilots: educate, innovate and motivate.
Education is about questions he said. He told them to ask questions to progress their knowledge as Airmen.
Innovation pertains to the constant changing of plans and uses of the tools at the new pilot’s disposal. He acknowledged the Doolittle Raid, telling the students of the many ways it changed how pilots think, and why innovation made Doolittle a common name throughout military aviation. Do what you must do to get the mission done he stated.
Motivation is the essence of leadership he said. When a pilot climbs into an aircraft they are so proud to fly, there are thousands of fingerprints on the sortie. It is a leader’s job to keep those hard-working individuals motivated, because the people putting the aircraft in the air and flying are the most important piece of each flight, not the metal, the nuts or bolts.
“I’m often asked what’s one of my combat stories,” Parker said. “I always relay a story that sticks in my mind as vivid as I can ever remember it.”
He begins; it was one of his first deployments as a bomber pilot, he was flying missions out of an island and into Afghanistan for Operation Enduring Freedom.
“I had the great fortune one afternoon that I wasn’t flying, a chief master sergeant invited me to go out to the bomb dump so I could see the Airmen as they sweated without any cover building those bombs,” Parker said. “Those 18 and 19 year-old Airmen in the 120-degree heat are busting their backs all day to get these bombs loaded so we can go kill terrorists.”
What he found most fascinating about these Airmen, was after their shifts they didn’t go back to the tents. They sat at the end of the runways with binoculars to watch the bombers come back to land.
“They wanted to see if the bombs were gone. They wanted to see if you had dropped those bombs on the targets and you were returning back safely,” Parker said. “You see those Airmen, the ones that fix the aircraft and make the bombs, they might not ever wear these wings,” he paused. “But you will. You will. These wings carry all of their hard work and all their effort; their payoff. You carry that with you, it’s not a burden, it’s a privilege.”
He drove the point home looking at the new aviators, telling them from experience the team around them is now theirs to lead, and their choices and actions matter to everyone.
“This point is so important. You are officers and leaders first, pilots second and warriors always,” Parker said.