A memorial to Air Force special tactics airmen was dedicated Thursday at Hurlburt Field, Florida, the culmination of a four-year effort.
The focal point of the memorial is a 7-foot bronze statue of a special tactics airman in operational gear atop a black granite base, according to an Air Force news release. There will be pedestals on both sides of the statue with the names of fallen special tactics airmen -- 19 killed in combat and eight in training.
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein led the dedication ceremony and recounted one of his missions as a fighter pilot in 1999. He was shot down over Serbia and a special tactics team rescued him, then a lieutenant colonel, reported Northwest Florida Daily News.
Special tactics is the Air Force's ground special operations force.
Special tactics airmen do "memorial push-ups" at Hurlburt Field, Fla., on Thursday after the unveiling of a monument honoring special tactics personnel. Hurlburt Field is home to the Air Force Special Operations Command.
Photo Credit: Devon Ravine/Northwest Florida Daily News via AP
"In today's battlefield environment, joint operations is the only way to go," said Marine Lt. Gen. Joseph Osterman, deputy commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, according to the Air Force release. "Being an infantry guy, I can tell you there's nothing better than having a special tactics airman around and having a gunship overhead. That changes everything on the ground: a sense of confidence that isn't really matched by anything else."
Special tactics airmen are the Air Force's ground special operations force, and include pararescuemen, combat controllers, tactical air control party operators, special tactics officers, combat rescue officers, special operations weather officers and enlisted airmen, air liaison officers, and other combat support airmen. They are often embedded with elite troops such as Navy SEALs, Green Berets and Rangers to provide skills such as combat air support, medical aid, and personnel recovery.
The names of the eight special tactics airmen who received the Air Force Cross -- the service's highest medal for combat valor, second only to the Medal of Honor -- are among those engraved on the pedestals beside the statue. Those airmen include Senior Airman Dustin Temple, a combat controller whose heroism during a 2014 battle in Afghanistan is credited with saving 80 troops' lives, and Master Sgt. Ivan Ruiz, a pararescueman who risked his life to save two wounded teammates during an intense, close-range firefight with insurgents in Afghanistan in 2013.
Tech. Sgt. John Chapman, a combat controller killed during the 2002 Battle of Roberts Ridge in Afghanistan, also received the Air Force Cross for his bravery in that battle. And the New York Times in August reported Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James has recommended that award be upgraded to the Medal of Honor. That would make Chapman the first airman to receive the nation's highest valor award since the war on terrorism began.
"They don't consider themselves as heroes; they see themselves as airmen," Goldfein said. "In this community, uncommon valor is a common virtue."
Retired Chief Master Sgt. Steven Haggett spearheaded the project to get the memorial built. Haggett served in the Air Force 30 years, 14 of those in Air Force Special Operations Command as a first sergeant and maintenance crew chief. He volunteered to lead the project, from concept to design to final creation, the Air Force said.
"In over 30 years of military service, I have not come across a community like special tactics: They never asked for anything other than allowing them to do their job. Without complaint -- with no regrets," said Haggett, whose son is a pararescueman. "It was clear to me that a memorial was the least we could do for these airmen who give everything for their country, and ask for nothing in return. To us, it is the right thing to do."
At the end of the ceremony, most of the crowd joined airmen for a set of memorial pushups, a special tactics tradition to honor comrades who have died.
"I commend you for guarding this, your heritage, as fiercely as you defend our nation," Goldfein said. "I've never been prouder to be an airman than I am standing here before you on this sacred ground."