Two Airmen from the Desert Lightning Team shared the Washington D.C. experience with veterans from the Tucson community through Honor Flight Southern Arizona March 26-29.
Twenty-seven veterans and guardians got to see The World War II, Vietnam, Lincoln, Korean, Women’s and Air Force Memorials as well as Arlington National Cemetery through Honor Flight Southern Arizona.
Honor Flight Southern Arizona is one of hundreds of centers throughout the U.S. The non-profit organization is made possible through the many volunteers who give through either volunteering or donating.
Senior Airman Sammie Ervan, 355th Logistics Readiness Squadron base support planning manager, and Tech. Sgt. Darren Firth, 355th Operation Support Squadron non commissioned officer in charge of air traffic control training and standardization, were selected by their leadership to take part in guiding a U.S. military veteran through the nation’s capitol.
“Guardians” are assigned one or two veterans.Their responsibilities are to escort them throughout the trip, as well as make sure he or she wakes up at a proper time, takes their medication and stays hydrated throughout the day. Both Ervan and Firth went through mandatory, essential training prior to the excursion.
“The training went over what the trip’s going to be like and what to expect,” Ervan said. “We also went over what should be done if something were to happen in an emergency situation. The veteran I’m guardian of is in a wheelchair. So, I had to learn how to set him in a wheelchair and the proper way to push him. With older people, they can injure themselves by just sitting a certain way in the wheelchair, so this ensures that they don’t get hurt.”
The veterans Ervan and Firth escorted shared many stories, but one story stood out.
“Mr. Jones, the veteran I escorted, was captured as a Prisoner of War for 23 months,” Firth said. “He was a tail gunner who was shot over the Baltic during WWII. He explained that he floated towards the land for a while and the Polish picked him up. About the time they got to land the Germans were waiting and they captured them. When they started breaking up the camps; Jones marched 600 miles over two and a half months in the winter to be liberated.”
Ervan and Firth said they both learned more than expected and would like to be involved with Honor Flight again.
“The whole trip was way better than I expected,” Ervan said. “The things I learned, the looks on the veteran’s faces when we got to the WWII Memorial were just breathe taking.”
Both Ervan and Firth would recommend anyone, especially active duty, be part of an Honor Flight if given the opportunity.
“I think it’s great for active duty, because many of us don’t fully appreciate and realize what they did,” said Firth. “I thought it was a once in a lifetime experience. And honestly, it was more than I expected. It kind of touches your heart seeing people at the terminals at the airport standing up clapping for the veterans. And 13-year-old kids coming up and shaking their hands, it’s pretty moving.”
For more information or to volunteer with HFT, visit them at http://www.honorflightsaz.org. or Airmen can contact their First Sergeant.