Demonstrating the versatility of the HD-1 robot, Tech. Sgt. Peter McNally maneuvers the robot and presents the American Flag to KMS Elementary students. (U.S. Air Force Photo By/Staff Sgt. Vesta Anderson)
The 325th Civil Engineer Squadron Ordnanace Disposal Flight took the lead with the Boy Scouts in the annual Salute to our Veterans parade, hosted by Kate M. Smith Elementary School, Nov. 9 in Chipley, Fla. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Staff Sgt. Vesta Anderson)
by Staff Sgt. Vesta Anderson
325th Fighter Wing / Public Affairs
11/19/2007 - TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- The warm air, carrying a faint and familiar song from the football field, pushed through the school's labyrinth of corridors. As the sun escaped beyond the trees' grasp, the rays found their place highlighting the red, white and blue of the American flags that decorated the school-grounds.
"I'm proud to be an American, where at least I know I'm free...," a schoolgirl from Kate M. Smith Elementary School at Chipley, Fla. rehearsed the song, hitting each note with ease.
The song's emotion hung in the air, as if testifying to the significance of this day to bystanders - it was Veteran's Day and KMS Elementary was hosting their annual Salute to our Veterans parade.
In this particular tribute, celebrating the men and women who have served their country at home and abroad, the school staff invited three Airmen from the Ordnance Disposal flight, EOD, of the 325th Civil Engineer Squadron here to take the lead in the parade.
"It means a lot to the kids and to the veterans in this area that EOD came out today," said Ms. Gina Page, KMS Elementary character education and environmental enrichment teacher, and organizer of the event.
Tech. Sgts. Peter McNally and Jeff Findley and Staff Sgt. Harold Horton finished setting up their equipment on the dusty track as the children and teachers walked towards the field, classroom chairs in-tow.
Students' hands leaped into the air for a brief seconds to eagerly wave at the Air Force Airmen saying hello and thank you for "fighting the bad guys."
They carried personally made banners, flags and hats. Their faces were decorated with red, white and blue paw prints representing their school's mascot, the tiger. Once the children found their designated locations, they sat down near the track to watch the parade.
The parade was marched for two laps around the school's football track. Afterwards, EOD spoke about their roll in the Air Force, especially during deployments and to highlight the equipment they use.
EOD brought the newest addition to their flight, a high mobility multipurpose wheeled vehicle to lead the way and trailing behind it was an HD-1, the hazardous duty robot.
"The HMMWV is a M1116 model, and it has been out for several years," said Sergeant Horton. "It's just like the Army M1114, but with a bigger storage area and more armor."
Even the impressive HMMWV couldn't steal all the attention.
"The robot is used for reconnaissance and remote neutralization of improvised explosive devices and unexploded ordnance," said Sergeant Horton.
Once the ceremony began, the three Airmen stood at ease while the children sang songs from America's heritage - and finally the National Anthem.
With their right hand pressed against their hearts, the children's watchful eyes glanced over the flag, the veterans in the stand, and finally to the active duty servicemembers from Tyndall. Noticing that both the veterans and active duty were saluting the flag- some children emulated the action.
"They know the sacrifice our countrymen have made for our freedom," said Sergeant McNally. "It was nice to see they are proud to stand right next to us and honor us as their heroes."
During the parade, Sergeant Horton wore EOD's protective bomb suit made with Kevlar and rode in a trailer behind the HMMWV. Sergeant McNally, who controlled the robot, trailed closely.
As the team passed by, the students stood waving their flags, striving to get the better view than the student next to him or her.
Afterwards, the static display of their equipment was set up.
Approximately 500 students rotated through the four displays: the robot, where a student's movement was mimicked by the HD-1; the bomb suit, where students nominated their class teacher to wear the suit; the IED and UXO mockups, where children learned about bomb threats and tested their strength throwing a dummy hand-grenade; and the HMMWV, where the students heard about the duty positions of each individual in a convoy and were able to crawl through the massive vehicle.
EOD troops from all services are one of the most highly deployed and highly utilized career fields in the Global War on Terror, explained Sergeant Findley.
From Tyndall's EOD flight, four Airmen are currently deployed. EOD deployments last six months to a year, said Sergeant McNally.
Currently, there are two additional Airmen set to leave for the desert in the near future.
The opportunity to see and participate in an event where their service is honored is a welcomed change from their normal environment.
"The kids really made me feel proud to serve," said Sergeant McNally. "The fact that people in the world care about what their military does; it was a great experience."