A 'humbling' salute for 148th retirees
Before he and his wife begin touring national parks in retirement, John Sorensen first got to join with the other new retirees in the 148th Fighter Wing and receive a standing ovation and final salute from their brothers and sisters in the Air Na...
Before he and his wife begin touring national parks in retirement, John Sorensen first got to join with the other new retirees in the 148th Fighter Wing and receive a standing ovation and final salute from their brothers and sisters in the Air National Guard.
For a self-described "soft guy," Sunday's gesture from the hundreds of fellow airmen in attendance at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center served as a poignant goodbye to service.
"Looking out at it was really very humbling," said Sorensen, a chief master sergeant who gave 425 weekends across 36 years to the local unit - not including his day job as the base's budget analyst. "Knowing I won't be a part of this organization anymore is really kind of sad."
Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Brig. Gen. David D. Hamlar of the Minnesota Air National Guard addressed the private annual awards ceremony, at which the 148th also honored its roughly 300 members who deployed to Osan, South Korea for three months last spring during a time of considerable tension created by the North Korean dictatorship.
Members of that large group filed onto the Symphony Hall risers as a pianist played "America the Beautiful." It created a scene that left another new retiree, Master Sgt. Jeffrey Johnson, with a pang for not being able to appear with them.
"It's one of those moments you feels like something's missing," said Johnson, who twice deployed to Iraq during his 22-year career. "You go into this to do missions and deploy - to do what the president and the nation asks of us."
Of the mission to South Korea, Hamlar said the 148th acquitted itself in a manner that elevated their part-time status.
"You went over there and not only did you complete your mission," he said, "but you sold yourself to active duty."
Klobuchar told the assembled that the federal government owed it to them to continue to work on their behalf when it came to providing civilian jobs and health care for veterans.
"There wasn't a waiting list when you signed up," Klobuchar said, "and there shouldn't be a waiting list when you need health care."
Klobuchar addressed the base's ongoing pursuit of the F-35 fighter jet to replace the stable of Block 50 F-16s the 148th received in 2010 with Klobuchar's backing.
A move to the F-35 would allow the 148th continued entry into what she called "cutting-edge missions."
"We're still working with the Air Force," she said after the ceremony. "We're going to have new people in charge of the Defense Department and will plead our case again."
Col. Jon Safstrom, the 148th's commanding officer, thanked the families in attendance and called them "the foundation" of the unit.
"We recruit airmen," he said, "but we retain families."
For Sorensen, 55, the day was one for reflection on a long career of service and the people he'll be leaving behind. He said he looked at the local fighter wing as a 1,000-piece puzzle.
"You take one piece out and it's just glaring," he said. "Every one of us here is an important part of the organization."