NEW YORK -- The Air Force kicked off one of its biggest outreach programs in America's largest city Aug. 19 with a combination of opening day remarks, flyovers, interactive displays and performances by Air Force bands.
The opening ceremony at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum on Pier 86 marked the start of Air Force Week here, three days of events aimed at showcasing the Air Force, and its men and women, in front an audience of more than 8 million New Yorkers.
"Air Force Week shines a big spotlight on our Airmen's essential contributions to America's national security, and America's Airmen in the fight," said Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley during his remarks.
He told the audience that no matter how advanced the Air Force becomes technologically, its success will always depend on its people.
"We give our men and women responsibility beyond their years, and we expect them to perform their missions, and innovate and improvise, to get the job done," Donley said. "We can never take them for granted. Our Airmen make us exceedingly proud...and we couldn't ask for finer role models for examples of selfless service."
The ceremony included other top Air Force and local civic leaders, as well as a flyover by the Air Force's Thunderbirds aerial demonstration team. An open water rescue demonstration with an HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter and rescue team from the 106th Rescue Wing, Westhampton Beach, N.Y., followed.
There were also interactive displays featuring the Air Force Recruiting Service exhibit "Command Center Alpha," a 3-D tour that includes computer graphics, videos and a Thunderbird display.
"This week, Airmen will interact throughout the five boroughs of New York, sharing their stories, educating citizens about the many contributions of the Air Force and their impact to national defense," said Gen. Edward A. Rice, commander of the Air Education and Training Command and one of the guest speakers at the ceremony. "These activities will allow America's largest city to engage with the most powerful weapon system in our arsenal: our Airmen."
New York Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassano, who represented the city during the ceremony, compared today's Air Force and its Airmen to the city of New York.
"The city continues to rise," Cassano said. "It brings us to new, never seen before heights. Our Air Force is the most technologically advanced and most highly trained aerial fighting force the world has ever seen. You literally bring our country to new heights through your dominance in the sky."
During the activities, Donley unveiled the 2012 edition of the "Portraits in Courage" series, which highlights Airmen who have displayed bravery and determination in the face of especially challenging or dangerous circumstances. Five of the 20 Airmen portrayed in the series were honored during the ceremony, to include:
- Capt. Jennifer Curtis, a family nurse practitioner with the 75th Medical Operations Squadron, Hill Air Force Base, Utah, who pulled six injured servicemembers into her medical facility to provide aid after her camp in Afghanistan was attacked; - Capt. Darrel Deleon, a space and missile commander with the 1st Space Operations Squadron, Schriever Air Force Base, Colo., who saved the lives of injured Soldiers during an attack on his camp in Afghanistan; - Staff Sgt. Christopher Jarrell, a military working dog handler with the 81st Security Forces Squadron, Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., who provided suppressive fire that enabled the recovery of wounded servicemembers during an attack in Afghanistan; - Capt. Blake Luttrell, a special tactics officer with the 21st Special Tactics Squadron, Pope Field, N.C., who recovered a wounded Soldier and provided critical medical care before coordinating a show of force with attack helicopters during an Afghanistan battle; and - Staff Sgt. Vanessa Salzl Bibb, an aeromedical technician with the 59th Medical Wing, Joint Base San Antonio, Texas, who helped provide treatment for 14 wounded servicemembers after an attack on a provincial reconstruction team.