New "Warrior Airman" exhibit opens at USAF Museum

  • Published
  • By Capt. Lisa Dowling
  • Western Air Defense Sector Public Affairs
The Airman's Creed promises that members of today's Air Force will be the nation's, "Sword and shield, its sentry defender and avenger." That sentiment was duly reinforced Jan.12 when the National Museum of the United States Air Force opened its "Warrior Airmen" exhibit. The newest addition to the museum honors how today's fight-focused Air Force contributes to the global war on terrorism in Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.

The exhibit dedication took place after hours at the museum, which is located at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, where more than 200 people attended. Director of Air Force history and museums' Dick Anderegg opened the ceremony by introducing dignitaries, donors, and a group of special guests -- some of the "Warrior Airmen" represented in mannequins and scenes in the exhibit.

"This exhibit shows how the Air Force has always been an adaptive service," said Mr. Anderegg. "This is a testament to this adaptability and serves as an opportunity for future generations to see what we already know our Airmen are capable of accomplishing."

Three sections including 18 mannequins and more than 400 artifacts make up this new exhibit. In one section is entitled "Battlefield Airmen" Air Force special operators such as pararescuemen, tactical air controllers and combat weather Airmen are highlighted showcasing their involvement in the Battle of Takur Ghar. At this battle, Army, Navy, and Air Force service members fought an intense engagement against al-Qaeda and Taliban insurgents atop a 10,000 foot mountain in a remote region of Afghanistan. Many service members were wounded and killed during the battle.

A diorama displays a scene from this battle, with posed mannequins of five Airmen involved in a rescue mission of a Navy Seal who had fallen out of a helicopter. The display is backed by a 15-foot video screen playing recorded interviews from Airmen involved in the mission, letting them tell the harrowing story in their own words.

Another section called "In the Air" demonstrates how pilots and aircrews accomplish their missions. Touch-screen video monitors describe real world missions that provide close-air support, dropping bombs on targets and flying rescue operations.

In addition to the aforementioned sections, the museum houses various glass cases containing artifacts and wax figures of Airmen who were wounded in combat during Air Force ground operations are commemorated.

Mr. Anderegg explained what inspired this new exhibit that focuses on current and future operations.

"Courage," began Mr. Anderegg. "Courage is the ability to act when you're scared to death. That is what these Airmen here tonight showed. To these brave Airmen, we dedicate this exhibit."

Senior Master Sgt. Kevin Whalen, of the 111th Air Support Operations Center located at Camp Murray, Tacoma, Wash., was one of the Airmen introduced at the opening of the exhibit. Sergeant Whalen has his own section which shows a figure of the warrior dressed in his full battle uniform during his combat deployment to Afghanistan. The uniform and equipment were donated by the 116th Air Support Operations Squadron, where Sergeant Whalen was assigned at the time of his deployment.

Sergeant Whalen received a Purple Heart medal for injuries he sustained in 2003 during a combat patrol mission in Afghanistan. His convoy was ambushed and he took a bullet to his left bicep. While tending to his severely bleeding arm, he assisted a fellow soldier with a wounded leg, then radioed for help. Sergeant Whalen called in AV-8s Harrier jets that had been diverted to another area earlier to come and perform strafing runs on enemy fighters, saving the lives of everyone in the convoy.

"Washington State is loaded with 'Battlefield Airmen' who are highly decorated and well known," said Sergeant Whalen acknowledging respect for his fellow comrades.

Other items displayed at this exhibit are some of the shrapnel that was taken from Whalen's arm when he was wounded during the ambush; his dented pocket multi-tool that was shot off of his belt; and a replica Purple Heart medal. Sergeant Whalen gave his original Purple Heart he had received to an Afghani soldier who was also wounded during that same ambush.

"The motto of this museum is 'We are the Keepers of Their Stories'," said retired Maj. Gen. Charles Metcalf. "Many museums focus on the past, and we do that job well. But this is contemporary history. Focus on the bare walls because our legacy lives on to our sons and daughters to create the next chapter."

For more information about the exhibit, visit