167th Airmen thank hometown for community support

Airmen from the 167th Airlift Wing who call Morgan County home presented local officials with an American flag Saturday night to fly at the new courthouse in downtown Berkeley Springs, W.Va. Pictured in the first row, from left: Berkeley Springs Mayor Susan Webster, Tech Sgt. Sylvester Payne Jr., Staff Sgt. Luke Shambaugh, Staff Sgt. D.J. Zahnow, Master Sgt. Michael Darby, Master Sgt. Robert Bowers, Morgan County Commissioner Brenda Hutchinson and Morgan County Commissioner Brad Close. Second row, from left: Tech. Sgt. Gretchen Close and 1st Lt. Sarah Law. Third row, from left: Senior Master Sgt. Scott Wachter, Chief Master Sgt. Roland Shambaugh Jr., Capt. Carmela Emerson and Senior Airman John Unger rounding out the back row. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Sherree Grebenstein)

Airmen from the 167th Airlift Wing who call Morgan County home presented local officials with an American flag Saturday night to fly at the new courthouse in downtown Berkeley Springs, W.Va. Pictured in the first row, from left: Berkeley Springs Mayor Susan Webster, Tech Sgt. Sylvester Payne Jr., Staff Sgt. Luke Shambaugh, Staff Sgt. D.J. Zahnow, Master Sgt. Michael Darby, Master Sgt. Robert Bowers, Morgan County Commissioner Brenda Hutchinson and Morgan County Commissioner Brad Close. Second row, from left: Tech. Sgt. Gretchen Close and 1st Lt. Sarah Law. Third row, from left: Senior Master Sgt. Scott Wachter, Chief Master Sgt. Roland Shambaugh Jr., Capt. Carmela Emerson and Senior Airman John Unger rounding out the back row. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Sherree Grebenstein)

BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.Va -- In a gesture of appreciation for all of the support that their hometown has given them over the years, members of the West Virginia Air National Guard's 167th Airlift Wing presented an American flag to Morgan County officials Saturday night to be flown over the new downtown courthouse.
With 10 fellow Airmen by his side, Senior Master Sgt. Scott Wachter, a lifelong resident of Berkeley Springs, presented the flag to Mayor Susan Webster as Morgan County Commissioners Brenda Hutchinson and Brad Close looked on.
Capt. Carmela Emerson, a nurse assigned to the Wing's medical group, spearheaded the idea of presenting a gift to the community by Airmen who call Morgan County home. She said the group - which has no official name - is open to all Airmen from the 167th Airlift Wing and other veterans who have put down roots in that part of the Eastern Panhandle.
"They have given us such wonderful support over the years," Emerson said. "I felt it was important to thank the citizens of Morgan County for their prayers, cards, donations and gifts while we were deployed for OEF and OIF."
She said the outpouring of heartfelt support for the Airmen from citizens, schools, businesses, employers, churches and local officials has not gone unnoticed. Presentation of the flag may have been a simple gesture, but she hopes it speaks volumes of the great appreciation felt by the Airmen.
Future plans also call for the group, which currently numbers more than 30 members, to present a plaque with its member's names and ranks engraved for display at the courthouse.
"Just another way to thank Morgan County for all of their support," Emerson said. "I just can't say enough about all of the support everyone has given us over the years."
Wachter, the first sergeant for the Wing's Maintenance Squadron, said the American flag presented to local officials has never been flown before and he hopes it finds a permanent home atop one of the courthouse's three flagpoles.
"It's a brand new flag that is going to be dedicated to the citizens of Morgan County," he said. "The first time it will ever be flown is over the courthouse here."
"We wanted to make sure that it went up prior to Memorial Day," he added.
Wachter said the community is "tried and true."
"Anytime any service member that lives in Morgan County has ever gone overseas whether for any of the operations that are presently going on in the past there has always been an outstanding support," he said.
"They have always been so true to us and we want to be true to them," he said.
Webster was raised in a military family with her father serving in the United States Army for three decades.
"I very much understand the love of country, the love of community," she said. "I have always very much believed that if you live in a community you owe the community and that is what our military has done for us. For them to want to give something back like this, I don't have words to thank them for what they do and yet they want to recognize the people of Morgan County."
"They deserve every bit of our support," Webster said, clearly touched by the heartfelt gesture from the Airmen.
Chief Master Sgt. Roland Shambaugh, chief of the loadmasters assigned to the base in Martinsburg, said Sept. 11, 2001, marked a milestone for those in uniform.
"We have encountered the highest operation tempo ever since then," said Shambaugh, who is also a native of Morgan County.
"In the 30 years that I have been around the military the citizens of Morgan County have been very gracious supporting all of the sons and daughters that serve in uniform.
"All of the time that we have been deployed, the care packages and letters from the local folks and school kids have been very inspirational, very motivating" he said.
Adding: "I think it's nice that we can give a little something back and show our appreciation. From the bottom of my heart we appreciate all the kindness and support that they have shown to those that wear the uniform."
Tech Sgt. Gretchen Close, who has also lived in Berkeley Springs her entire life, said her hometown has given her so much and has supported her in her deployments as well as being in the Air National Guard itself.
"It's very important for young and old alike to see that people from Berkeley Springs are giving back to the community and nation," said Close, who is assigned to installation personnel readiness.
A sentiment shared by her younger sister, 1st Lt. Sarah Law, a nurse at the Wing's medical group.
"The Air National Guard has given so much to me," she said. "I joined 10 years ago to follow in the footsteps of my sister and I think it's important that the community sees that we are out here and giving back and want to be part of giving thanks to our community."
Perhaps Close summed it up best this way.
"There's no place like home and once you're here you can't get out," she said with a smile.