Chaplain (Capt.) Thomas Fodi, 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing, offers a prayer for a remembrance ceremony held at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia Oct. 16, 2011, in conjunction with Bells Across America. Photo by Army 1st Lt. Rusty Ridley
| ||SOUTHWEST ASIA (11/8/2011) - Firefighters have a close bond - one that grows closer by remembering what is truly important.|
A gathering of members from the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing, along with others across the U.S., started Oct. 16, 2011, by honoring fallen firefighters in conjunction with Bells Across America.
This marks the 30th Annual National Fallen Firefighters Memorial weekend in Emmitsburg, Md. For the first time the bells of the chapel at the national memorial will chime in honor of firefighter fallen heroes to accompany the ceremony.
The significance was not lost on participants who are currently serving at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia.
"It brings to light the little things, when you're standing and listening to the speakers, you think it's so much bigger than just me, here, helping run the department," said Tech. Sgt. Jason Procknal, a native of Buffalo, N.Y., who is deployed from Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J. "It's worldwide. There are so many people way before me who made sacrifices."
This year 89 new names will be added at the memorial. Seventy two are from 2010 line of duty deaths and 17 more are from previous years that had not yet been added. Including 2010 there are a total of more than 3,400 fallen firefighters that have been honored at this memorial.
A year ago, Department of Defense firefighters were officially recognized and added at the memorial site.
"Working overseas during a deployment as a firefighter is always a tough thing especially being around for some of the losses that we've experienced while deployed," said Tech. Sgt. Geoffry Wilson, also deployed from Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., and is a native of Las Vegas, Nev. "It's actually really significant seeing us being added at this point to the actual ceremonies and the DoD being accepted last year."
"It has a great impact on me and I'm very appreciative of the fact that we get included since we also do the job the rest of the nation does on a regular basis," Wilson said. "I'm just excited to be part of it and glad to see that it's getting recognized across the board. It's a strong tribute."
Senior Master Sgt. Joseph Walsh, 332nd Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron fire chief, attended last year's events in Maryland and reflected on the experience.
"The ceremony was moving," said Walsh, who is deployed from Barksdale Air Force Base, La. "Truly. There wasn't a dry eye left in the thousands in attendance and it didn't matter your age, how big or small, military or civilian - a tear was shed."
A discharged fire extinguisher was used as an improvised bell and was struck by a spanner wrench nine times.
The sound of a bell holds special significance for firefighters. Historically, the toll of a bell summoned members to the station, signaled the beginning of a shift, notified departments of a call for help and indicated a call was completed and the unit had returned to the station.
Departments sounded a series of bells when a firefighter died in the line of duty to alert all members that a comrade had made the ultimate sacrifice. This time-honored tradition continues today during the funerals or memorial services for firefighters.
"We utilize these traditions as symbols which reflect honor and respect on those who had given so much and served so well," said Walsh, a native of the Bronx borough of New York City. "There are few jobs that ask to lay down our lives for others. You have chosen two of them: the first for your country in defense of our freedoms and helping others who can't, and the second is when you return home to your stations to protect your neighbors."
By Army 1st Lt. Rusty Ridley
332nd Air Expeditionary Wing
Provided through DVIDS
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