19th ARG members gather for final celebration

  • Published
  • By Amanda Creel
  • 78thABW/PA
Family and friends of the 19th Air Refueling Group were treated to some fun in the air followed by some fun on the ground May 22.

The fun-filled day was a final celebration for the group as they prepared for their closing ceremonies May 28.

The day started with members of the Black Knight family taking off for the last group-sponsored incentive flight and ended with a picnic in the park.

The flight gave the Black Knights a chance to give family and supporters from the Middle Georgia community another glimpse into their refueling mission.

Members of the Black Knight family were all pleased with the opportunity to celebrate the heritage and tradition of the group that marked its 80th birthday in October.

Though the group doesn't end its mission here until September, about 40 percent of the group has already moved on to other assignments and the Black Knights wanted to have fun together before the remainder of the group is dispersed around the world.

"It gives us one final good time together before we all say goodbye and go our separate ways to different parts of the country and the world," said Staff Sgt. Rashard Williams, with the 19th Operations Squadron.

For many, the opportunity to fly during a refueling flight was indescribable.

"It was awesome. I got to lie in the boom pod and I got to wave at the F-22 pilot," said Valerie Rose, wife of Tech Sgt. Gary Rose. "It was the icing on the cake, one last hurrah."

Jennifer Lammers, wife of Staff Sgt. David Lammers with the 19th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, said the flight was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Though the group has done annual incentive flights for years, Col. Chris Bence said this one was extra special because it was the last one.

"It's our way of saying thank you to all the spouses, family members and the community for their support," Colonel Bence said.

Members of the community were invited for one more flight with the airborne gas stations, know as KC-135 Stratotankers, as well.

"It just shows what amazing people we have serving us," said Eddie Wiggins, who flew on the incentive flight. "They don't have to do it but they do it because they love it."

The loss of the 19th ARG will be felt throughout the Middle Georgia community, Mr. Wiggins said.

The day ended as the group sponsored a final celebration of the group's 40 years as a part of the Middle Georgia community.

The festival included numerous fun activities for young and old alike, including dominoes, inflatable slides and a dunking booth.

"We work hard and we play hard," said Tech. Sgt. Cesar Stephenson with the 19th Maintenance Squadron.

Colonel Chris Bence said the event was just another way to recognize the contributions of Black Knights, both present and past, and gave members of the group a chance to celebrate their time together as a Black Knight family.

The picnic was a chance for Black Knight leadership to say thank you to the Black Knights and their families for their hard work, dedication and outstanding achievements during the past year.

He said he was impressed by the Airmen's drive to excel in the midst of the closure.

Not only did the group earn the all-time group safe flying award, it also was one of only two Air Mobility Command units to earn the Air Force Meritorious Unit Award for 2007.

"Even though we are closing down, we are still doing the job, because that's what we do," said Staff Sgt. Marquis Knight, a member of the 19th AMXS.

Sergeant Stephenson said, it was important to recognize the significant role of family members in the Black Knight's achievements.

"Family is the key to why we have been so successful as Black Knights," he said.

One thing that made the group's preparations for a final farewell less heartbreaking was the announcement the group's flag would not be folded after their closing.

"I think it's sad the Air Force feels the need to close a squadron with so much history. I am glad they are going to redesignate it somewhere else; that's important," said Erin King, wife of Maj. Michael King who was assigned to the 99th Air Refueling Squadron.

"We are extremely ecstatic that the 19th is not physically folding its flag, but instead it is going to Little Rock Air Force Base to become an airlift wing," said Chief Kevin Hamilton, group superintendent.

No matter where the flag flies, members of the base community will always remember the 19th ARG's contributions at Robins.