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Fallen, yet still alive

Master Sgt. Ryan Blumberg, 823rd RED HORSE expeditionary manpower management course instructor, lays a wreath on a veterans grave Dec. 13 at the Mount Hope Cemetery in Lynn Haven, Fla. Blumberg laid the wreath as part of the Wreaths Across America Day event, that pays respect and honor to military members that have fallen. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Sergio A. Gamboa)

Master Sgt. Ryan Blumberg, 823rd RED HORSE expeditionary manpower management course instructor, lays a wreath on a veterans grave Dec. 13 at the Mount Hope Cemetery in Lynn Haven, Fla. Blumberg laid the wreath as part of the Wreaths Across America Day event, that pays respect and honor to military members that have fallen. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Sergio A. Gamboa)

Team Tyndall and Civil Air Patrol pose for a group photo accompanied by John Kelley, Lynn Haven, Fla. mayor, Dec. 13 at a cemetery. They volunteered with the Wreaths Across America Day event, that pays respect and honor to military members that have fallen by placing a wreath near their grave. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Sergio A. Gamboa)

Team Tyndall and Civil Air Patrol pose for a group photo accompanied by John Kelley, Lynn Haven, Fla. mayor, Dec. 13 at a cemetery. They volunteered with the Wreaths Across America Day event, that pays respect and honor to military members that have fallen by placing a wreath near their grave. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Sergio A. Gamboa)

A wreath lays on a veterans grave Dec. 13 at the Mount Hope Cemetery in Lynn Haven, Fla. Wreaths were placed on graves as part of the Wreaths Across America Day event, that pays respect and honor to military members that have fallen. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Sergio A. Gamboa)

A wreath lays on a veterans grave Dec. 13 at the Mount Hope Cemetery in Lynn Haven, Fla. Wreaths were placed on graves as part of the Wreaths Across America Day event, that pays respect and honor to military members that have fallen. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Sergio A. Gamboa)

TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- Remembering, honoring and teaching is Wreath Across Americas' mission in paying respect to veterans who have fallen. Even a simple gesture of visiting the graveyard veterans now rest upon can say something of how American heroes are appreciated by current and past military members and their families.

Every year Wreaths Across America sponsors a nation-wide wreath laying ceremony in December for members of the military who have passed away. One wreath is placed by their final resting place in honor of their service to their country.

"I believe the purpose of this event is to show our respect and try to honor, in a small way, our fallen veterans by placing a wreath on their grave," said Senior Airman Kiara Valencia, 325th Medical Operation Squadron mental health technician. "I'm really glad to be a part of something nation-wide and something here in our local community. It turned out very well with all the support and volunteers we had."

This event has been going on since 1992 but was officially marked as Wreaths Across America Day in 2008 by U.S. Congress. This was the first time Bay County and Team Tyndall participated.

"I asked people at Tyndall about the event and they didn't know what I was talking about," said Master Sgt. Susan Hammond, 325th MDOS mental health flight chief. "I am excited to get Tyndall involved now to begin doing this regularly."

Hammond came to Tyndall on a permanent change of station from the D.C area, where she has participated in this event since 2009.  The first time she volunteered she thought it was fantastic, but it meant something much more personal to her after she deployed to Afghanistan.

"When I deployed, I lost a couple of my teammates, I felt like this was something that I needed to continue to be a part of," Hammond said.  "Now that I'm at Tyndall, I feel I can bring something from our national capital region to the Panama City area."

With only 288 wreaths donated this year, not all graves were able to receive a wreath. This was the first time this event happened locally so hopefully more donations are made next year, Valencia said.

More than 100 people volunteered for the event including Team Tyndall, Civil Air Patrol and the local community, and volunteering for this was a no-brainer for Valencia.

"I've had fallen comrades in my life, friends and family, and I couldn't be there to place a wreath on their graves, so what better way to show respect to them then place one on a military members' grave here," she added. "Every grave that we placed a wreath on is the reason why I do the job I am doing today."

Teaching families and children about why this event is held is something Hammond holds dear.

"I was really excited about the inaugural event and even more excited for what is yet to come. My vision is to cover every grave in Bay County next year and keep teaching kids," said Hammond. "We never want to forget the sacrifices our fallen have made to keep us free."

In the words of philanthropists, Pierre Claeyssens, "To be killed in war is not the worst that can happen. To be lost is not the worst that can happen... to be forgotten is the worst."