After closing its doors more than three years ago, the 308th Fighter Squadron, also known as at the Emerald Knights, was reactivated at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., in November 2018.
While all eyes were on the people standing on the stage for the ceremony, another figure stood tall next to the stage. That figure was a newly restored coat of armor, dedicated in memory of Staff Sgt. Kelae H. Barcelona, 308th Aircraft Maintenance Unit dedicated crew chief, who lost his life to a drunk driver while on his way to work in 2005.
“It was early November and I was at the clinic and noticed a lieutenant colonel wearing the 308th FS patch on the sleeve of his flight suit,” said Staff Sgt. Edison Irizarry, 56th Equipment Maintenance Squadron aerospace ground equipment craftsman. “I hadn’t seen that patch for several years so I decided to ask him a few questions.”
Upon learning that the 308th FS would soon be reactivated, Irizarry knew he had to do something with the memorabilia he had seen in one of his unit’s storage containers. Flags, banners, swords and the coat of armor had all been tucked away after the squadron was deactivated in 2015.
“I remember reading the plaque on the coat of armor and after knowing the story behind it, it was so important to me that his memory not be forgotten,” said Irizarry. “I told my leadership what I wanted to do and they supported me, so I reached out to the 308th.”
“We were so grateful to know they had the items and he was going to restore them in time for the ceremony,” said Senior Master Sgt. Michael Davis, 308th AMU assistant superintendent. “The records for a fighter squadron are usually maintained by the historian and the operations side of the house. When it comes to maintenance, that’s not always the case and sometimes the history fades as people move or leave the service.”
After being in storage for a few years, the armor and other items were covered in dust and becoming tarnished.
“I don’t know how or why it ended up with our unit after the deactivation,” said Irizarry. “I just knew it was in pretty bad shape after being in storage for so long and I wanted to return it to its rightful owner in the best possible condition.”
Irizarry spent several days working to bring back the armor’s shine, and had help from a few other Airmen to meet the fast approaching deadline of completion for the ceremony. Together they repaired broken pieces and reconfigured components to prop the armor back up.
“These items were pretty significant and important to us and the legacy of Staff Sgt. Barcelona,” said Davis. “We’re thankful Irizarry and the other Airmen took the time to restore and bring back a piece of the AMU.”
With the diligent work of Irizarry and the others, the moto of the squadron, “Emerald Knights, strength and honor” was upheld.