Fire departments working together surprise no one. In fact, mutual aid is a common occurrence in many communities across the country. More often than not, the fire service is willing to help when asked. Sometimes, the event may not even be an emergency. Such was the case in August 2010, when...
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Fire departments working together surprise no one. In fact, mutual aid is a common occurrence in many communities across the country. More often than not, the fire service is willing to help when asked. Sometimes, the event may not even be an emergency.
Such was the case in August 2010, when Central Iowa Honor Flight made two trips to Washington, DC, to visit the World War II Memorial. The District of Columbia Fire Department (DCFD), Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority Fire Department, Fairfax County, VA, Fire and Rescue Department and other area agencies provided much-needed assistance in making the trip a special occasion for about 700 World War II veterans hailing from the "Fields of Opportunity State."
Honor Flight is a national initiative to get America's World War II veterans to Washington, DC, to see their monument, the National World War II Memorial. This mission takes on a sense of urgency when one considers that nationwide we are losing about 900 of the "greatest generation" folks every day. Assisting these veterans as they make the Honor Flights is a worthy cause. I am still in awe of the tremendous odds our veterans faced as they landed on those beaches, facing death and destruction, as they pressed on and ultimately defeated our enemies. It was not without a tremendous cost to these brave men and women. Lives were lost, scarred and forever changed. Young men and women paid the ultimate price for America's freedom for the good of our country and in the name of countries half a world away.
Honor Flights are a free service for our nation's veterans. The cost of the flights is covered through donations and the help is provided by volunteers. Volunteers are needed to assist the veterans through airport security as well as climbing two flights of stairs as they board the Boeing 747 jetliner. Additionally, volunteers were needed to travel with the veterans to help them when they deplaned in Washington, DC, and as they traveled around the city visiting the memorials.
The fire service stepped up to fill the need for a support team — a task complicated by the fact that these veterans are elderly, many of them need assistance in walking and a few dozen were confined to wheelchairs. On the first of two Central Iowa Honor Flights of 350 veterans, the youngest veteran was 84 and the oldest was 100 years old. Assistance was needed for the early-morning departure and again when they returned to Des Moines late that same day.
The Journey Begins
An Honor Fight is highly coordinated and requires a great deal of logistics and preparation. To avoid the inevitable difficulties of trying to get 700 veterans and 100 volunteers to meet at the airport for a 6 A.M. flight, the veterans were registered the day before the flight and most stayed at a hotel at Des Moines International Airport. At registration, each veteran was assigned to a color-coded group that matched one of the 11 buses they were assigned to throughout the trip. This made tracking the veterans during this trip much easier. Also, each veteran was provided a "WWII Veteran" hat and an "Honor Flight" shirt, making them easily identifiable even at a distance.
Part of the trip was a pre-flight meal the night before the trip. The veterans were bused to a convention center and enjoyed a meal with a special show. There was great military music and photographs from the World War II era as well as displays of World War II military gear and uniforms. The Iowa troops moved out to the pre-flight meal in a bus caravan with a police escort and a motorcycle escort by Legion Riders and Freedom Riders, all equipped with American flags. Local citizens lined the route and their "salute" to the veterans touched them deeply. I overheard one veteran state that he hadn't received this kind of welcome when he returned from the war — the brave man was moved to tears as the U.S. flags were waved and the masses cheered the veterans.