A Kenai resident currently serving in the Alaska Air National Guard briefly returned home to give his family a rare opportunity to see him be sworn in for re-enlistment at the Kenai Municipal Airport Wednesday.
Stepping out of a Pave Hawk helicopter, Senior Airman Duncan Harris, 25, from the 176th Wing, Search and Rescue Division, emerged from the belly of the bird and gave his mother, father and brother a hug.
Harris, a 2006 graduate of Kenai Central High School, has served three years in the Air National Guard, stationed at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage. Prior to joining the guard, he spent four years in active duty with the U.S. Air Force where he was stationed in Arizona.
His mother Debbie Harris, a Kenai resident said it was a special moment to see her son step out of the helicopter. She said he just finished his engineering training working on helicopters and now he gets to fly in them.
“It is not everyday you get to see your son come down in a helicopter and witness the swearing in ceremony,” she said. “His ties to Kenai are strong and it is special to think he would put this together.”
Harris’ father Dave and brother Derrek, a 2008 graduate of KCHS, also came for the brief ceremony on the airport apron, along with Kenai Mayor Pat Porter and airport manager Mary Bondurant. Porter greeted the seven airmen aboard the helicopter and thanked each one of them for their service.
With his division flying training missions above the Kenai Peninsula, Harris said he thought it would be a unique chance for his family to see him re-enlist.
“With me being up in Anchorage it is hard to see my family on a daily basis so to be able to tie our training out here with the re-enlistment ceremony is an amazing opportunity,” he said.
Prior to arriving in Kenai, however, the ceremony was delayed because the 176th Wing was called in to rescue two skiers stranded on the opposite side of Cook Inlet. The skiers were stuck overnight before being airlifted to safety Wednesday morning, said Major Matt Calabro, Chief of Tactics for the 176th Wing.
The 176th Wing will be doing emergency training procedures for the next couple days around Cook Inlet. Calabro said they were able to combine the training with a “check ride” stop in Kenai for the re-enlistment ceremony.
Calabro has known Harris since the two were stationed in Arizona together back in 2010. He said anytime someone honors their commitment to service, their family is also making sacrifices and it is important anytime they can give back. He said it was nice to see his family, as well as Mayor Porter.
“We appreciate (Harris) for continuing to honor his commitment and to get his family involved; it’s nice we can give back,” he said. “They give up so much for us when we are in combat so it’s nice we can do something for them too.”
Standing in front of the helicopter with his fellow airmen holding up the U.S. flag, Harris raised his right hand and recited his oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States and the State of Alaska.
Harris said while the airman may downplay the ceremony, it is a big deal to everyone who has served. He said his experience with search and rescue has been life changing.
“If someone is stranded on a mountain and we can go pick them up and give them a ride home,” he said. “Our motto is, ‘These things we do that others may live.’ Whether in combat or rescuing civilians, our job is to go out, complete a mission and get people home safe.”
Reach Dan Balmer at email@example.com.