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NEWS | June 24, 2010

Pararescuemen: Honoring fallen warriors

By Staff Sgt. Mareshah Haynes Defense Media Activity-San Antonio

More than 20 pararescuemen, active duty, retired and prior service, donned their service dress uniforms, with boots and maroon berets, and fell into formation. Local freedom riders holding American flags lined the street of the funeral procession. As their fallen comrade's remains arrived and were retrieved by honor guard members, the formation saluted him.

On a bright sunny afternoon in San Antonio, the mood is far from light on this day as pararescuemen from across the U.S. paid their final respects to their fallen comrade, Tech. Sgt. Michael Flores, in a funeral ceremony at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery June 19 here.

There are only about 350 to 375 pararescuemen currently in the Air Force, said Chief Master Sgt. Lee Shaffer, the pararescue careerfield manager.

"Once you're a pararescueman, always a pararescueman," Chief Shaffer said of the retired and prior pararescuemen who came out to honor Sergeant Flores. "It's not uncommon for prior (pararescuemen) to show up at these events. We want them to wear the berets. We are a brotherhood. "

The ceremony went on much like many other services do, but once the official ceremony was over is when the pararescue ritual began.

The pararescuemen fell out of formation and formed a line up to the casket. One by one, they marched smartly to the casket and saluted Sergeant Flores. Then, they took off their berets and removed the flash, and placed it on Sergeant Flores' casket. They put back on their beret and saluted Sergeant Flores for the last time.

The flash is a device worn on the beret and is worn only by pararescuemen who have completed the two years of training it takes to become fully qualified. The flash comprises a guardian angel wrapping its arms around the world, which symbolizes the mission of pararescuemen. Underneath the flash it reads "So others may live", the pararescue credo.

The tradition of slamming the flashes into the casket, so they stick and stay with the member forever, began shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, when Senior Airman Jason Cunningham, a pararescuemen, was killed in the battle at Roberts Ridge in Afghanistan, Chief Shaffer said.

"We've found, through the years, that some of the families like that tribute that we pay," Chief Shaffer said. "When one of our warriors falls we want to give as much back as we possibly can to the servicemember who lost his life and the family members. This beret, and the flash that's pinned on it, is probably the single most important thing to a pararescuemen. To us it represents all of our hard work, our dedication and basically our heart and soul. We want our fallen warrior to be forever buried with what's most precious to us and what was most precious to him."