If you ever spent any time in the military you have probably received a military challenge coin. If you did something special while you were in than you were coined to be recognized for your achievements. Typically these coins are received with a handshake with the military challenge coin cupped in the hand of the person awarding you their coin. Usually the people giving you the coins are senior enlisted members or officers. I was coined several times in my 21 year career in the Air Force, but I want to tell you about the best military challenge coin I ever got.
From July 1999 to July 2004 I had the privilege to be assigned to a special duty assignment as an SHF Satellite Communications Operator/Maintainer on the E-4B National Airborne Operations Center(NAOC). I was apart of the 1st Airborne Command and Control Squadron(1ACCS) were I worked in the Avionics Flight at Offutt AFB in Bellevue, Nebraska. The 1ACCS was responsible for maintaining the modified Boeing 747-200 aircraft that was in support of NAOC , aka Nightwatch, Doomsday Plane or Airborne Pentagon. The 1ACCS also had airborne communications operators who ensured the battle staff of NAOC had communications capabilities on the ground and in the air no matter where they go in the world. I want go into anymore details about the aircraft or specific units, but you can check out more information about the E-4B on this Boeing E-4 wikipedia link.
One of the major missions besides normal alert duties and following the President of the United States(POTUS), was to transport the Secretary of Defense(SECDEF), Secretary of State and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff(CJCS). For me, these missions were always the coolest missions to be apart of. You got to interact with some of them and you got to see some of the effects of your work in action. It gave me a very gratifying feeling and just made me so proud to be a member of the 1ACCS, NAOC and the US Air Force. I met a lot of great people on these missions and on this aircraft. I also received some pretty cool military challenge coins, but none greater than the one I received in 2004.
While assigned to the 1ACCS I had the privilege to go on many unique missions, but there was one that stood out to me the most. Part of it was what the mission was for and who we were supporting, but the other part was about our accomplishments during this mission. When we first got the word about this upcoming mission we had no clue what it was for and where we were going. This is a typical scenario for us not to have any information to protect classified information and for the security of each mission. I am sure most of you remember the Abu Ghraib Prison Scandal, if not you can read about the Abu Ghraib torture and prison abuse. During this time frame this was a very political issue and like any situation like this, someone has to be the fall guy. No one told us this was what the mission was for, but this was my assertion.
With missions like this it is typical for us to go pick up our traveling parties. For this mission it was the Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Richard Meyers. Of course this would include their full staff of workers and some press members. Before I continue with this story I have to go off topic to tell you about an experience I had with General Meyers after we picked him up. Below you will see some pictures I got from the combat photographer that was apart of the the SECDEF’s team. You will see General Meyers boarding the plane in his Air Force blues and later in a desert flight suit. When he first boarded the plane he made his way back to the back of the aircraft so he could change. At this time I was sitting at a position that is known as 5 left on the aircraft. This is an observatory window seat at the back left hand side of the aircraft. There are some bunk beds in this area and it is also good place to change with out anybody seeing you except if there is someone sitting at 5 left, which I was. We were taking off and I was already strapped in my seat belt. I really didn’t know what to do or say until General Meyers asked me if it was OK if he changes right here. Of course I wan’t going to say no. He starts undressing down to his whitie tighties and then goes to put on a black t-shirt. He then turns to me and says don’t mind my t-shirt. I looked at it and if I remember correctly it was an APEHANGERS Bar and Grill t-shirt. I then asked him if it was OK for me to wear an unauthorized t-shirt under my uniform too. He laughed!
Back to the mission…
Leading up to this mission we had been working on trying to provide internet services over one of our satellite communication systems. We already had the capability of providing it over INMARSAT, but at that time I think the cost for satellite time was about $18 a minute. I might be over exaggerating, but I know it was expensive. Like most satellite communication or telecommunication issues, usually the problem is a timing issue. When we are airborne we have a satellite link with an Army ground station and receive our communication services through them. There are a lot of moving parts and a lot of different manpower involved from different services and organizations to provide these capabilities. I can’t go into all of that, but trust me it is a lot. There was several things preventing us from providing internet prior to this mission, but we almost had them all resolved before the mission started. Within hours after take off we finally figured out the last fix action that allowed us to finally provide the SECDEF with internet. It isn’t the modern day high-speed internet, but it was a 64kb circuit that after overhead provided the equivalent of a 56kb dial up service.
We ended up flying in to Kuwait to drop off SECDEF Rumsfeld and CJCS General Meyers so they could hop on a C-130 to go meet with General Ricardo Sanchez, Commander of Coalition Ground Forces in Iraq. I can’t be sure what was talked about but I am sure my assertion earlier was correct that this was to fire General Sanchez. Like anything that ever happens in the military or our government there always has to be a fall guy, and unfortunately for General Sanchez he was at the wrong place at the wrong time.
It was a long trip for everybody, but being apart of missions like this were some of the biggest highlights in my career. On the trip back I was awarded a military challenge coin from SECDEF Rumsfeld and CJCS General Meyers. It was the second military challenge coin from Rumsfeld I had received, but it was even cooler this time because of what we accomplished and the fact that I got a military challenge coin from both of them. Military Challenge coins are an important part of military tradition and most of these challenge coins mean a lot to the individuals that receive them. I would love to hear about your stories of the best military challenge coin you ever got. Please share in the comment section below.