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Airmen receive recognition for deploying

St. Louis -- Military members, family and friends all gathered at Ritenour High School for a Hometown Heroes Salute Awards ceremony Jan. 23 to honor the Guardmembers who have deployed for more than 30 consecutive days at a time since Sept. 11, 2001 in support of Operations Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom and Noble Eagle.

"Today's ceremony recognizes the military and family members of the 131st Bomb Wing and attached units for their outstanding devotion to duty, sacrifice and service to their country while deployed in defense of their nation," said Lt. Col. Timothy Jones, 131st Mission Support Group commander deputy. "We wish to thank each of you for your service to our country, whether as an Airman or a wingman. The price of serving is immeasurable and it is difficult to find words that adequately express our gratitude for your sacrifice."

The ceremony was the first of its kind for the 131st Bomb Wing and awarded more than 200 Airmen with a letter of appreciation signed by Gen. Craig Mckinley, National Guard Bureau chief, encased in a personalized rosewood frame and the Hometown Heroes Salute coins mounted inside; a Center of Influence medallion as a token of appreciation for the friend or family member who supported the Airman during deployment; as well as a Rosewood pen and pencil set and Hometown Heroes Salute dog tags for the Airman's spouse and children.

"Since Sept. 11, those in our Nation's armed forces have been called to step forward many, many times against the war on terror. Airmen, we are all honored to take just a moment to salute each and every one of you today for your service to our country," said Gov. Jay Nixon, Mo. Governor. "Many who have been called up, will be called again. Multiple deployments are in fact the new normal. Being away from your families and your homes for an extended period of time is never easy and is a sacrifice for both you and your loved ones. That's why today we are also saluting those who were waiting for you here at home."

Distinguished guests who presided over the ceremony included Gov. Jay Nixon; Army National Guard Brig. Gen. Stephen Danner, Mo. National Guard adjutant general; Brig. Gen. Stephen Cotter, Mo. National Guard chief of staff; Brig. Gen. John Owen, Mo. Joint Staff director; Col. Robert Leeker, 131st Bomb Wing commander; Command Chief Master Sgt. Bill Phillips, Mo. State command chief; Command Chief Master Sgt. Lisa Kessinger,131st BW; as well as representatives of Sen. Claire McCaskill, Mo. U.S. senator; Congressman Lacy Clay, Mo. congressman; and state representatives.

The Air National Guard Hometown Heroes Salute recognition program began in Aug. 2008 as a way to acknowledge the Airman, families and communities answering the call of duty and deploying to protect our nation. It is a National Guard Bureau funded program. For more information on the program, check out the Web site at: https://airguard.ang.af.mil/HometownHeroesSalute/Default.aspx

"Thank you for your service and thank you for the continued service. The 131st Bomb Wing has a great history and I will tell you that I believe that the greatest days are ahead of you," said General Danner.