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131st Bomb Wing Airmen honored for contributions to the global war on terror

SAINT LOUIS, Mo -- ST. LOUIS, Mo. -Missouri Air National Guard Chief of Staff, Brig. Gen. Jon Kelk, was among those who recognized Airmen of the 131st Bomb Wing and their loved ones during a Hometown Heroes Salute Award Ceremony March 31 at Ritenour High School.

The Hometown Heroes program was created to salute national guardsmen and their families for sacrifices made during deployments in support of operations Iraqi Freedom, Enduring Freedom and New Dawn.

Also attending were representatives for U.S. senators Claire McCaskill and Roy Blunt, Missouri Air National Guard Assistant Adjutant General, Brig. Gen. Stephen Cotter, Bomb Wing Commander, Col. Gregory Champagne, Missouri National Guard Command Chief Master Sgt. Laura Clark, Ritenour Principal Dr. Tony Robinson and 131st Bomb Wing Command Chief Master Sgt. Rich Pingleton.

According to Robinson, many Ritenour graduates go on to serve in the military, thus the school welcomed the opportunity to honor local members of the armed forces. Staff Sgt. Angie Johnson, a Ritenour High School graduate and member of the 571st Air National Guard Band of the Central States and the rock ensemble Sidewinder, sang the National Anthem during the ceremony. The 571st also performed during the event, and several band members were recognized for their recent deployment

Robinson was presented with a plaque on behalf of the 131st Bomb Wing by Col. Champagne thanking Ritenour for their patronage.

A special commemorative Hometown Heroes coin is mounted on each of the awards given to 131st Bomb Wing's Hometown Heroes. The coin displays symbols that represent the Air National Guard's allegiance to protect the United States from all enemies both foreign and domestic as well as the Air National Guard's commitment to answer the call of duty during the nation's global war on terrorism.

In his address to the crowd Champagne pointed out that since 9/11, the 131st Bomb Wing has deployed more than 2,320 members.

"The Air National Guard provides 35-percent of the Air Force's capability with 6-percent of the Air Force's budget, the merit of the Air National Guard, " said Champagne.
Senior Airman Alyssa Lappe, a travel management specialist for the Logistics Readiness Squadron who was honored for her deployment to Southwest Asia in 2010, hopes her infant son will grow up seeing her award and be as proud of her accomplishments during her enlistment as she is of her mother's, Master Sgt. Melissa Lakin, a recruiter for the 131st Bomb Wing.

Staff Sgt. Nikki Stephenson, a former member of the 131st Bomb Wing's Security Forces Squadron, who has deployed on multiple occasions, said she appreciated the fact the 131st Bomb Wing invited her to attend the ceremony and be recognized even after her honorable discharge.

Members who were deployed for 366 consecutive or more days were awarded an engraved eagle statue. They were also given a crystal etched bowl to present to their spouse or significant other.

Those who were deployed for 180 to 365 consecutive days were honored with an American Flag in a personalized frame.

Members who were deployed for 30 to 179 consecutive days were honored with a letter of appreciation encased in a personalized rosewood frame. The letter is signed by the chief of the National Guard Bureau and the command chief of the Air National Guard. These members were also given a rosewood pen and pencil set to present to their spouses and significant others.

Each member honored was given commemorative items to bestow upon those who supported them while they were deployed. The items, Special Center of Influence Medallions are a way to thank those who provided them and their families' with outstanding support during their extended absences. Additionally, children of those deployed were given special I.D. tags to further honor their families' sacrifices.