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NY Air Guard Enlisted Airmen focus on 9/11 for professional development

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  • By Senior Airman Kevin Donaldson

WESTHAMPTON BEACH, N.Y. - Fifty-three New York Air National Guard enlisted Airmen took part in a professional military development trip organized by the 106th Rescue Wing, led by Command Chief Master Sgt. Denny L. Richardson, and focused on the events of Sept. 11, 2001 from May 10 to 14.

Richardson said he took the group to three 9/11 related sites because he wanted to inspire the Airmen to continue learning and growing more resilient, helping find true purpose in why they serve.

“We must never forget this cowardly attack on our Nation and humanity that took so many innocent lives and changed the way we live forever,” Richardson said. “The focus of the week’s events and site visits were to connect members with the purpose of why they serve and how important it is to learn of the past events and stay agile to stop future threats.”

According to Master Sgt. Sara Margaret Luna, a contracting specialist at the 106th Rescue Wing, the Airmen, from all the New York Air National Guard wings learned through briefs, mentoring, networking, and the site visits.
Airmen were selected to attend the events by each wing’s command chief.

Luna organized the site visits, tours, briefs, logistics, and travel itineraries. The trip was intended for 40 members and expanded to 53 to provide even more deserving Airmen with this unique experience.

“More than half of the members on the trip were young and joined the Air Guard after 9/11, Luna said. “Some learned about what really happened during 9/11 for the first time at the site visits.”
Richardson said he still remembers how he felt that day.
He was at a funeral in Upstate New York on an honor guard detail while assigned to the 109th Airlift Wing, he said.

“The ride back to the base from the funeral that day was somber,” Richardson recalled. “I was shocked, thinking how could this happen, what do we do now, and how can we prevent this from happening again.”

Professional development is vital to building future Air Guard noncommissioned officers and leaders, Richardson said.

“The development of our members is critical to grow and sustain a future fighting force,” Richardson said. “It is my responsibility to ensure the N.Y. Airmen are trained, developed, and equipped, and have a safe environment built on a solid foundation of respect.

The professional development event began at the 106th Rescue Wing with a mission brief and base tour.

The group visited a total of eight stops and heard from many different speakers.
Chief Master Sgt. Edward Stefik, command chief of the 107th Attack Wing, briefed the group at the Air Force Memorial.
Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Ramon “CZ” Colon-Lopez and Lt. Gen. Marc Sasseville, the Vice Chief of the National Guard Bureau, both briefed the group at the Pentagon Memorial.

Sasseville was one of the fighter pilots that responded to intercept the plane that crashed into the Pentagon. His jet was unarmed, and he was ordered to fly a suicide mission to take down the terrorist-controlled aircraft.

Currently, the Homeland Air Defense Mission for the Washington D.C. area consists of two F-16s fueled, armed, and ready to deploy from the District of Columbia Air National Guard base at a moment’s notice to defend the nation’s capital, Sasseville told the Airmen.
Now, pilots stay in their flight suits, ready 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Before 9/11, this standby mission of armed fighter jets did not exist, he said.

The group also visited Arlington National Cemetery, Flight 93 Memorial, the Empty Sky Memorial, FDNY Engine 10 Bronze Wall, and America's Response Monument.
The trip ended with a tour of the World Trade Center in Manhattan.

“We planned 9/11 site visits because members that are serving are going to be fighting wars because of 9/11, ''Luna said. “The visits are more impactful for members to relate to why they serve and how important their contribution is to keeping us safe.”

Staff Sgt. Casey Coudrey, a 106th command support staff member, said that she was only five when 9/11 happened.

Being on the trip, and learning about what happened that day, seeing the debris and visiting the cemetery connected her with the events, she said.

“I am honored and inspired to serve -- knowing that my contribution to the mission can make a difference in saving lives,” Coudrey said.

At least three members were planning to potentially separate from the Air Guard before this professional development event. After the event, those three individuals reenlisted because they found their purpose, explained Richardson.

Luna was recognized and coined by Richardson and other chiefs in attendance for successfully organizing and executing the professional development trip to include setting up travel itineraries, logistics for hotels, buses and meals to name a few.

“Our members are the cornerstone of our operation and must be mentored, developed, and treated with respect and dignity,'' Richardson said. “We must exhaust all opportunities to ensure our members are developed and shaped to become 21st Century leaders.