McGhee Tyson ANGB, Tenn. --
The Order of the Sword is the highest honor the enlisted ranks can bestow on an officer. This is not an honor given out lightly. The Order of the Sword must be earned through exceptional service to the enlisted corps. The honoree takes part in a ceremony exclusively orchestrated and attended by the enlisted forces. The military ceremony is shrouded in mystery and the event's integrity is fiercely protected by the individuals who make everything run smoothly behind the scenes.
On Nov. 1, the Order of the Sword was presented to Lt. Gen. Craig R. McKinley at McGhee Tyson Air National Guard Base's infamous orange hangar. Over 500 enlisted personnel from all over the United States were in attendance. Airmen stood tall in two parallel lines, staring into each other's eyes making a pathway from the orange hangar to the base's flightline gate, in preparation for the general's arrival.
As the Airmen waited outside in the warm Tennessee fall evening, anticipation increased as did the number of Airmen sweating in their semi-formal and mess dress attire. The gate could be heard opening and everyone made last minute adjustments and awaited for the call, 'TENCH-HUT' everybody in the two lines stiffened; Guts were pulled in, shoulder pushed back, arms went to their sides, thumbs pointed down, and eyes straight ahead as everyone listened to the quite hum of the Silver Rolls Royce progressing down the aisle. As the general passed, Airmen paired off and followed behind him. The double file of airmen walked rhythmically by with their shoes patting and arms swishing harmoniously.
When the lines arrived at their destination, the old orange maintenance hangar was nowhere to be found. It had been transformed into an ornate banquet hall. Even the men and women who work there daily did not recognized their beloved hangar.
Smoke clung to the air, an array of colors dimly lit the hall, young Airmen stood guard with their chests puffed up in pride, servers buzzed through the tables, and attendees chattered and laughed with old friends and new. Quickly, the line formed for Airmen to sign a scroll marking for the history books that THEY had been here, that they had been a part of the Order of the Sword. Then in military tradition the wait to be seated began.
Lt. Gen. McKinley and his guests of honor waited in the VIP lounge. One guest of honor who stood out was Airman Kelsey Ivers from the 102nd Intelligence Wing at Otis Air National Guard Base, Mass., Airmen Ivers was the most junior person it attendance and as such, she was chosen to sit at the head table next to Lt. Gen McKinley. She said that she and the others from her Airman's council were excited to be in attendance and that, "It is a good experience because I am so young. It will be a good career experience for me, especially down the road."
Happy to meet the general, Airman Ivers said, "He's very nice and professional. I was honored to meet him...The people have all been very nice and welcoming, it is a good environment to be in."
The general himself seemed to be relaxed and soaking in every moment the evening had to offer, and there would be many.
Many wondered why he picked McGhee Tyson instead of his home state of Florida. He was happy to answer "the center of gravity for the Order of the Sword is Knoxville. That is where we keep the sword...every time I come to Knoxville, I am blown away by the professionalism especially in the command and enlisted...I'm humbled, it is such an honor for me to be a part of the ceremony, this heritage."
Throughout the evening the general would thank many people, but one name in particular was repeated. Lt. Gen. McKinley said, "I'd like to thank Chief Dick Smith; he's done a wonderful job."
Chief Master Sgt. Richard A. Smith is the ninth Command Chief Master Sgt. to the Director, Air National Guard, National Guard Bureau. The two men present a shining example of a great officer and a great enlisted member working together to secure the welfare of the Airmen.
Command Chief Smith was at the ready to both praise and rib his friend "I report to the general, but I really work for the 90,000 men and women in the Air National Guard." Chief Smith said of Lt. Gen. McKinley, "He truly cares about the enlisted men and women...Working for Lt. Gen. McKinley is easy, the job isn't, but working for him is."
The Command Chief at Cyber Command, Carol Dockery said "It's the greatest honor we can bestow. It's a testament to our enlisted heritage to know we value leadership whether it is an A1C or an officer. The order is the ultimate expression of that act. It is an honor to be a part of this even whether viewing or taking part, a magnificent honor."
Finally attendants were allowed to their tables. After the posting of the colors and invocation everyone enjoyed a sumptuous dinner. The 572nd Air National Guard Band of the Smoky Mountains played after the intermission and received a standing ovation from the entire hall.
Then it was time for the reason everyone was assembled, the Order of the Sword Ceremony...which will remain shrouded in mystery true to tradition. But, it is only fair to share the high praises Lt. Gen. McKinley had for McGhee Tyson and the entire enlisted force. "We are in a hallowed building. I am so honored to be in this orange and white hangar", which was received with loud applause. "Words can't even express for me and my family how deeply humbled we are to be here tonight."
Throughout his speech he spoke from the heart and with true emotion. "There are people in this room who have helped me become a better leader...for us to be effective leaders no one's needs should go unfulfilled." He thanked and praised the enlisted leaders who helped him get to this point and continue to support him. "Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force McKinley, it is an honor to be here on the same stage with you, you represent great leadership...I was so privileged to have Chief Smith on my team. I'd like to recognize you tonight Dick...It has been one of the most impressive and meaningful nights of my life."
He recognized Col. Ed Morrissey, one of the very few officers in attendance. The Order of the Sword is restricted to enlisted and previous Order of the Sword recipients, any exceptions must be by written permission from the Secretary of the Air Force. General McKinley went on to say, "Col. Ed Morrissey has always stood by this school (the TEC) and this center of gravity for education...Our National Guard at 361 years of age has never let us down and it will never falter.. As long as the wind blows, the grass grows, and the sky is blue, I respect and love each and every one of you."