Virtually every official Air Force photo ever taken (with the exception of those taken during basic training) shows an Airman with medals pinned to the left side of the uniform. The ribbons track the milestones and achievements of a typical military career. As we all know, the ribbons are awarded for a wide variety of occasions including good conduct and longevity as well as acknowledging awesome acts of valor and gallantry. The recipients of the latter, we call heroes. These are people we look up to and admire. These are the ones who set the bar of human achievement.
However, they are not the only ones who model heroism, bravery and great courage. There is another category of people to whom we could all turn for inspiration - children who face life threatening illness or injury. The "Young Heroes" program began when a Michigan Guardsman was visiting a family member in the hospital and encountered a child suffering the ravages of cancer. The Guardsman was dressed in his dress blues complete with all of his ribbons. The child asked him what the ribbons were for. The Airman explained what each one represented and, when he finished, the child asked, "What do I get?" That child's question spawned a program of recognition that has proven to be a great way for the members of the Guard family to connect with those who also know suffering and sacrifice from the inside: children suffering from life threatening illness or injury.
What is the "Young Heroes" program all about?
In essence, it is an awards ceremony conducted by military members in a decidedly civilian environment. It is a significant public relations program between the military community and the civilian population it is sworn to protect. The Young Heroes program identifies children (ages 5 to 17) who model great courage in the face of tremendous suffering and pain associated with life threatening illness or injury. Once identified, these children are given a "Medal of Courage" minted in much the same way as other military awards. The awards ceremony is conducted in full military dress replete with a written citation, pinning the award on the recipient and the obligatory pictures all of which is followed by interaction with the assembled family members and other guests.
Any military member connected to the 144th Fighter Wing can make a referral to the "Young Heroes" project team.
The referral should include the following:
The Young Heroes project team will do the following:
- A brief description of the recipient's illness or condition.
- A brief explanation of why it is this person should receive such recognition.
- Permission from the person and his/her family to make such an award.
- A recommendation regarding where and when this award should be given (often in the hospital, but conceivably at school or at home or other public building/venue).
- Verify the facts.
- Write the citation.
- Engrave the "Medal of Courage" with name & date.
- Coordinate the award team (any member of the 144th Fighter Wing).
- Schedule the ceremony.
- Ensure the photos are taken and, if possible, that all local press know of the event in time to write or produce an article for public dissemination.
The "Award Ceremony" protocol:
- The recipient is notified that some special recognition is being scheduled but some element of surprise is involved.
- The award team (ideally 3 persons) reports to the designated venue dressed in blues. The citation is formally read while another person pins on the award while yet another maintains a salute for the duration of both the reading and the pinning ceremony.
- Colors may be posted if available. Appropriate music can be played before/during or after the pinning ceremony.
- Take photos is essential for public relations purposes.
- Spend time with the recipient, family and friends to honor the ceremony.