By Robert “Rowdy” Yates
On behalf of nearly 7,000 Cannon Air Force Base residents, I wanted to thank our local communities for their gracious treatment of your Lethal Warfighters. Specifically, I want to say thank-you to Clovis, Portales, Farwell, and Muleshoe for taking the time, bearing the expense, and for holding your loyal Air Force servants in such high regard as you showed on June 21 in the streets of Clovis.
Months ago, Ernie Kos, David Lansford, Ray Mondragon, Claire Burroughes, my wife Barbara, the Clovis Committee of Fifty, and an endless list of other local patriots formed support groups as it became evident that our nation would enter into conflict in the Middle East with Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi government.
The first event we were treated to was the “Patriotic Day in the Park” on April 12 at Hillcrest Park in Clovis. Exactly one month after that event, the 524 FS “Hounds of Heaven” returned to Cannon via F-16, Boeing 747 and other aircraft to heroes’ welcomes from their families and many local supporters.
Even before Cannon folks began returning, though, our community demanded that we allow them to honor us yet again with a homecoming parade down Clovis’ Main Street.
We, of course, were honored to oblige.
Lt. Col. Ken Rizer was charged with leading Cannon AFB’s preparation and practice. He chaired more than 10 meetings to ensure we would do you proud as we went on display. We chose the date (June 21) because most (but not all) of our heroes would have returned by then and the conflict would still be fresh in our minds. We then met to decide how the World’s Most Lethal Warfighters would show themselves.
Early on in the meeting we decided that we as military professionals would march down Main Street en masse to do our town proud. In fact, a question posed by Col. Mark Atkinson, 27th Maintenance Group Commander, made clear to me the excitement the idea generated around the base. He asked me, “If we’re going to march, how many marchers would be too many?”
I assured him the answer was simple — we could not have too many. Next thing I knew, we had more than 1,000 Cannon airmen and soldiers committed to march in the homecoming parade. And folks, we did practice. We wanted to do our supporters proud.
Of course, I need to say a few words about the parade day. Main Street was lined with flags. As Barb and I drove down Main Street before the parade, neither of us could speak as knots of pride and overwhelming emotion formed in our throats.
We saw spectators with signs of support and pride. Many came with bags of confetti. As I prepared to begin the march, another knot swelled within my throat, but I was able to utter the command, “Forward march,” as I was trained and determined to do that day.
As we marched down Main Street, we were overwhelmed by the display of down-home patriotism.
The scene from that day has left an indelible mark on the minds of your Lethal Warfighters — a picture of our town’s support for its warriors. This picture consists of citizens young and old, male and female, short and tall, of all shapes, sizes and colors; citizens who took time out to honor us, salute us, shout words of support and inspiration.
And then we all got together to celebrate at Greene Acres Park with great food, entertainment, and unprecedented fellowship.
I want to say thank-you for all our communities did for the 27th Fighter Wing. Your support is unique in my 22 years as an Air Force officer — uniquely wonderful.
I look forward to the months we will share in the future, the years you will share with this wing long after Barb and I are gone, and want you to know that your Lethal Warfighters will never, ever forget your support for us.
I am certainly the luckiest wing commander in the Air Force.
Col. Robert “Rowdy” Yates is commander of the 27th Fighter Wing at Cannon Air Force Base.