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NEWS | Sept. 17, 2013

66 years: A history of mission first, people always

By Staff Sgt. Jarad A. Denton 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

In an effort to counter the spreading influence of the Soviet Union, U.S. President Harry Truman implemented the National Security Act of 1947, Sept. 18 of the same year. The act restructured the nation's entire military framework and gave birth to the U.S. Air Force - a branch devoted to protecting both the national security interests of America, and its Airmen.

Throughout its history, the Air Force has woven the threads of its mission into the personal accounts of every Airman who served. Together, these lines form a familial tapestry with a deeply engrained heritage.

"Men make history and not the other way around," Truman said. "In periods where there is no leadership, society stands still. Progress occurs when courageous, skillful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better."

Through the leadership established under the National Security Act, the Air Force celebrates its 66th birthday as it has risen to become the world's dominant air power. Even during times of great turmoil, its Airmen agree the Air Force demonstrated its continued devotion to placing the mission first, but always caring for its people.

"I think the Air Force is the best branch," said retired Master Sgt. Ike Ikuss, quartermaster of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3219, Hampton, Va. "I put more than 20 years in, and it was good to me the whole time."

Ikuss celebrated the Air Force's 20th birthday at Tan Son Nhut Air Base, Vietnam. He remembered the dining facility serving cake and having a small celebration to mark the occasion - but the mission at hand outweighed the festivities.

"When I first got there it wasn't that bad," Ikuss said. "We would put in our 12-hour day, then go to the club and play pinochle. It was our routine."

That routine was shattered Jan. 30, 1968, mere months after the Air Force's birthday, when communist forces launched the Tet Offensive.

Ikuss was just leaving the dining facility when he heard the first shots.

"There was a sniper in the tower," Ikuss said. "I saw a guy right next to me get shot."

Ikuss said that as the bullet struck the man, it lifted him in the air and spun him around before he fell back to the ground. Immediately, the sobering reality sank in, and Ikuss took cover and began praying.

"It's not like the movies," he said. "We all realized really quickly that this wasn't a game. It was real and it was scary."

Despite being outnumbered, Airmen from the 377th Security Police Squadron worked with U.S. Army Soldiers and dispatched more than 962 enemy combatants. By noon on Jan. 31, the fighting was over and Ikuss was still alive. Following his tour, he was on a plane bound for the United States.

"I knew people back home didn't support what we were doing," Ikuss said. "But, I was proud to wear the uniform. I still am."

Thirty-two years later, as the Air Force celebrated its 43rd birthday, Staff Sgt. Cindy Anderson enjoyed a cake made for the occasion from a dining facility in Southwest Asia. Anderson, a retired chief master sergeant and current commander of VFW Post 3219, was deployed in support of Operation Desert Shield.

"By September we were all up and running," Anderson said. "In the beginning, we would launch the aircraft, they would fly for a few hours and come back. We would turn them or fix them and do it all over again."

Anderson said this routine lasted until the war started. The F-16 Fighting Falcons she launched would be gone for 10 hours at a time before returning. In order to keep track of their aircraft, Anderson and her crew would launch the jets and then watch the news for reports on targets struck.

"There were some long days," she said. "The whole thing didn't really change me as a person. I am who I am, but it did push me to get involved and keep active."

After her deployment was over, Anderson said that push to get involved didn't end. She pushed herself through the ranks of the service that she loved.

"The Air Force has always taken care of its people," she said. "We look out for one another and are well-rounded because of it. With 27 years in, I can honestly say that the Air Force has treated me well."

By 2012, both Anderson and Ikuss were retired and Staff Sgt. Ann Proctor was deployed to Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan, when the Air Force turned 65, Sept. 18. Proctor, who is currently the assistant noncommissioned officer in charge of the 633rd Security Forces Squadron visitor control center, said the celebration came only days after the base had been heavily attacked. Even through the firefight, Proctor said she maintained her appreciation for the service and all it had given her.

"Things had been pretty quiet until Sept. 11 [2012]," Proctor said. "We were suddenly under heavy fire. It truly made everything real for me."

The reality was that Afghan insurgents had bombarded Bagram, destroying a NATO helicopter and killing three Afghan intelligence employees in the process. For Proctor, serving on her third deployment since her enlistment in 2001, the attack did not diminish the sense of pride the Air Force had instilled in her.

"It's an honor to do what we do," Proctor said. "I am the first and last line of defense. Seeing that on my deployment really made me understand how important my job is, and how good the Air Force has been to me."

Proctor, Anderson and Ikuss, having lived through combat deployments, still feel strongly that while the Air Force asks a lot from its Airmen, it gives a lot in return. From its humble beginnings to its place at the pinnacle of air superiority, the Air Force has maintained itself through the years by putting mission first, but caring for its people always.