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Ellington Field guardsman speaks church


Published July 9, 2005

NASSAU BAY — On Sept. 11, 2001, when President Bush was in need of airborne protection, he called on the 147th Fighter Wing of the Texas Air National Guard based at Ellington Field.

The Wing’s F16s escorted Bush from Florida to Louisiana to Nebraska and finally, to Andrews Air Force Base outside of Washington, D.C.

Maj. Kurt L. Leslie of the 147th had just finished addressing two packed services at Nassau Bay’s Gloria Dei Lutheran Church during its patriotic Fourth of July Sunday, when he sat down to discuss the unit’s response that fateful day and its pending deployment to Iraq.

“It was like an ant pile that had been turned over,” Leslie said of the escort misson. “The unit performed extraordinarily that day. A lot of folks spent a lot of time away from their families. It was an unbelievable effort.”

He notes that many of the parttime guard members, who normally only work one or two weekends each month, reported for duty without being called.

They left their civilian jobs and rushed to Ellington Field in order to help.

“The mission to escort the president gave us a new purpose,” he added. “Bush was a member of this unit, a pilot, back in the ’70s. We’re proud of him, then and now.”

Calls to the base even came in from World War II veterans, asking how they might be able to help.

The loyalty went both ways.

When Bush was told that he was being protected by the 147th, he is reported to have responded, “Cool.” Later, when Air Force One was scheduled to leave Nebraska for Washington, D.C., one of the 147th’s F16 Flying Falcon’s still was being prepared to continue the mission. The local Air National Guard Squadron offered to assume the escort duty, but word from the president’s plane came back, “We’ll wait on the 147th.” So the aircraft carrying the leader of the free world idled in place for the Texas-based fighter to refuel before continuing back to the capitol.

But in the end, the 147th didn’t seek glory, nor do they receive it.

“As we flew Bush into Washington, D.C., we had two airplanes in back (of Air Force One) and one in front. Right before he landed, the Washington, D.C., Air National Guard popped up on his wing — and got all the press (coverage),” Leslie said.

Soon, elements of the fighter wing will head for Iraq.

“We believe that we’re helping Iraq become better — both Christians and Muslims,” Leslie said.

“For us to be able to do our jobs, we have to have faith in something bigger than ourselves,” he concluded. “In times like this we have to believe that, God willing, we’ll get through this.”

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To help support the 147th in Iraq or help their families while they are deployed, contact Texas National Guard, Family Readiness Office at (281) 929-2056.


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