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Team Seymour Airmen honor fallen former commander in chief

An F-15E Strike Eagle approaches a KC-135R Stratotanker for an in-flight refueling Wednesday. The Eagle was en route to take part in a 21-ship flyover for President Gerald R. Ford?s memorial service in Grand Rapids, Mich. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Greg Biondo) (released)

An F-15E Strike Eagle approaches a KC-135R Stratotanker for an in-flight refueling Wednesday. The Eagle was en route to take part in a 21-ship flyover for President Gerald R. Ford?s memorial service in Grand Rapids, Mich. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Greg Biondo) (released)

SEYMOUR JOHNSON AIR FORCE BASE, N.C. -- Airmen from the 4th Fighter Wing and the 916th Air Refueling Wing teamed their individual air power specialties to honor the passing of the nation's 38th commander in chief Wednesday in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

The funeral of former President Gerald Ford, who was called a man of strength and integrity by President George W. Bush, was punctuated by a flyover of 21 F-15E Strike Eagles. The honor of providing the flyover was not lost on the Airmen of Team Seymour.

"The aircrew and maintainers of the 4th Fighter Wing and 916th Air Refueling Wing who represent Team Seymour are very proud to be a part of this memorial," said Col. Steve Kwast, 4th FW commander, who piloted the lead aircraft in the formation.

While the flyover lasted only a brief moment, the impact of the solemn tribute revealed its thorough preparation. To properly honor the former president, extensive coordination was required by the Airmen of Team Seymour.

Strike Eagles are lethal aircraft, designed to perform air-to-air and air-to-ground missions at any time and in all weather, but long-range flights are not their specialty.

The round trip of approximately 800 miles from Goldsboro, N.C., to Grand Rapids requires more fuel than the Eagle can hold.

Conveniently, the personnel of the 916th ARW were able to provide the air-to-air refueling capabilities of their KC-135 Stratotankers to ensure the Strike Eagles make it to their presidential flyover.

"The citizen Airmen of the 916th Air Refueling Wing are profoundly honored to participate in the funeral ceremony for former President Gerald R. Ford," said Col. Paul J. Sykes, 916th ARW commander. "We are indeed privileged to pay our respects to America's 38th president by supporting our F-15 teammates with their funeral-formation air-refueling requirements."

While much of the glory goes to the aircraft and aircrew, without professional maintenance personnel, the jets would never get off the ground.

"It took the combined efforts of the maintainers of this wing to put air power on target, on time," said Chief Master Sgt. Brian Hornback, 4th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron chief. In this case, air power's target wasn't an adversary's position, but a farewell to a fallen leader.

"Knowing that my jet is going to be part of the ceremony honoring President Ford gives me an incredible sense of pride and honor to be a member of the 335th Aircraft Maintenance Unit and the 4th Fighter Wing," said Airman 1st Class Yajairo Calderon, a crew chief from the 335th AMU who joined many fellow maintainers who worked during unscheduled duty hours to answer the nation's call to honor the former president.

The funeral flyover provided a chance for Team Seymour Airmen to showcase their pride and professionalism on a national stage while paying tribute to a man of integrity.

"Watching an aircraft pull straight up to the heavens is a profound analogy to what happens to us when we pass on," said Col. Kwast. "Such a moment cannot pass without sending chill through my body and a tear to my eye. It is a very visceral and emotional experience whether experienced from on the ground or in the air."
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