SCHENECTADY Although they may not wear uniforms, the families of men and women in the U.S. military know the meaning of sacrifice.
The second annual Hometown Heroes Salute ceremony was held Sunday at Proctors. The event honors not only the active-duty members of the New York Air National Guard’s 109th Airlift Wing from Stratton Air National Guard base in Glenville, but also their families for the support and extra responsibilities they must take on while their loved ones are away.
“We hope that every spouse, significant other and extended family member knows how much they are appreciated,” said Master Sgt. John Rayone.
More than 100 members of the wing were honored this year. All of the airmen were deployed overseas for more than 30 consecutive days between Sept. 11, 2001, and Dec. 31, 2010. Two men, Capt. William Furmanski and Lt. Col. Joseph Hathaway, received special recognition for serving more than 179 days in the four major deployments in the War on Terror.
The service members on Sunday received a framed letter from the chief of the National Guard Bureau, Gen. Craig R. McKinley, containing a Hometown Heroes salute challenge coin. Spouses were given a special pen set and children of the deployed airmen received unique Hometown Heroes Salute dog tags.
A portion of the certificate they received read:
“Whenever freedom is threatened and liberty attacked, whenever there is a threat to our way of life, the American way of life, you are there, ever faithful, ever steadfast, and ready to defend. Weather in times of peace or conflict, no matter how great or small the task, there you will most assuredly stand, never faltering, never failing. On behalf of a grateful nation, we salute you, your family, and your employer.”
Col. Timothy LaBarge, commander of the 109th Airlift Wing, gave a speech Sunday congratulating his airmen on their service. He also spoke about service over self and how he’s proud the unit is never low on volunteers for deployments.
“There is no shortage of people who are willing to put themselves in harm’s way. Every single month I sign bunches and bunches of deployment volunteer worksheets,” he said. “This is absolutely and truly the epitome of service before self.”
During his speech, U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, thanked the unit and their families for exemplifying a “hometown hero.” He also said the respect for their service should not be lost in the “tug-of-war at times” that happens during the discussions and negotiations that occur in Washington.
“I make my commitment to you all today that this will not be the case,” he said.
A moment of silence was observed for the 31 Americans who lost their lives in a helicopter crash in central Afghanistan on Saturday.
Col. John Russo said the event is new to the 109th Airlift Wing, although other units have been performing the ceremony for several years. Last year’s event honored more than 300 service members.
Lt. Col. Tom Esposito, a 23-year veteran at the base, was one of those honored. The event was attended by his wife, parents and two young children. He liked that the event also recognized his family.
“They’ve just done so much. The ceremony is great for all of us and it’s just great to be recognized,” he said.