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Airmen recall Order of the Sword ceremony

USAF photo: Senior Airman Sheila deVera Lt. Gen. Donald Wurster, Air Force Special Operations Command commander, left, acknowledges the applause from the audience as his wife Ronda, center left, retired Chief Master Sgt. James Binnicker, the ninth chief master sergeant of the Air Force, center right, and Chief Master Master William Turner, 27th Special Operations Wing command chief, right, look on during the AFSOC Order of the Sword ceremony in Fort Walton Beach, Fla. on Nov. 19. Wurster became the seventh recipient of AFSOC’s Order of the Sword, the highest honor an individual can receive from the enlisted force.

Four Cannon airmen returned from Hurlburt Field, Fla., just before Thanksgiving, and recalled the induction of Lt. Gen. Donald Wurster, Air Force Special Operations Command commander, into The Order of the Sword.

Tech. Sgt. Christopher Rodenbeck, Senior Airman Casey Casavant and Airmen 1st Class Lester Powell and Michelle Mayhugh, were among the more than 700 AFSOC Air Commandos, 51 from Cannon, who honored Wurster Nov. 19 for his conspicuous and significant contributions to the welfare of enlisted airmen.

For Airman Powell, 27th Special Operations Force Support Squadron, it was not his first induction ceremony; he attended one in Europe, but, “I was excited because this was AFSOC, so I knew it would be a night to remember, and I was right.”

He remembered that the first thing he did upon entering the Emerald Coast Conference Center was sign a scroll that was presented to the general. And when Wurster came to the podium, “you could hear cheers, whistles and even the banging on 105mm and 40mm shells that were placed on tables.

“That night ... made me proud to be a part of the world’s greatest Air Force,” said Powell. “I thank all the seniors, chiefs and first sergeants for giving me this opportunity to attend such a magnificent event.”

Wurster became the seventh recipient of AFSOC’s Order of the Sword, the highest honor that can be bestowed upon someone by the enlisted force.

Chief Master Sgt. Michael Gilbert, AFSOC command chief, served as the ceremony’s command chief. He was flanked by Chief Master Sgt. Dexter Mitchell, 1st Special Operations Wing command chief, and Chief Master Sgt. William Turner, 27th Special Operations Wing command chief, each representing the enlisted personnel of Hurlburt Field and Cannon Air Force Base respectively.

After calling the room to order, Gilbert shared his perspective of working with Wurster on behalf of all special operations airmen.

“As AFSOC command chief, I enjoy a front row seat from which to view the performance of our commander during what has arguably been the most demanding era in AFSOC’s history,” Gilbert said. “We are more heavily tasked than ever before, but we’re also bigger and better largely due to Wurster’s efforts.”

Gilbert listed many of Wurster’s contributions to the quality of life for his airmen while leading them through missions in Haiti, Iraq, Afghanistan and others around the world. He credited the command’s success to the general’s leadership style and example.

With the ornate, ceremonial sword placed below the speaker’s podium, Wurster took to the stage. His remarks highlighted the contributions of the special tactics, operations, maintenance, mission support, medical and AFSOC airmen whom he has commanded since November 2007.

“Tonight is not about me, but a celebration of the terrific enlisted force in the United States Air Force,” said Wurster. “We say that AFSOC is a step ahead in a changing world and that agility is led by our enlisted force. What’s occurring in AFSOC in this generation is unlike anything in the entire history of the command, and you all are a part of it. We truly are a step ahead, and these changes are essential to our national security in the coming years. I’m truly proud of each one of you, because it’s you who are doing this.”

Wurster closed by thanking the more than 16,000 airmen for their selfless service in “the most relevant, respected and capable command in the United States Air Force.”

“General Wurster embodies the ‘Mission First, Airmen Always’ philosophy’,” said Rodenbeck, who is assigned to the 524th Special Operations Squadron. “At the induction, all the history and relevance was obvious, and as General Wurster spoke, everything that embodies this ceremony made it clear that he was most deserving of the honor. It made me proud to be a part of AFSOC and this community of professionals. “

Mayhugh defined herself as a young airman, brand new to the operational Air Force. She said that while considers herself confident, the experience made her more humble, because she learned that in order to become a great leader one must put the mission and the needs of others before their personal needs.

“I will carry the leadership traits I learned with me wherever I go across the globe,” she said.

For Casavant, 27th Special Operations Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, the Order of the Sword sounded like something he would hear in an old movie or perhaps read about in history books. He now understands the true meaning of the award and what it takes to be recognized by AFSOC Air Commandos.

“I cannot thank the supervision enough by allowing me and fellow airmen the opportunity to attend a ceremony,” he said. “It will have an everlasting impression on my career and on my life.