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President, Deployed Airman Talk Football on Thanksgiving

By Air Force Capt. Jason Smith
451st Air Expeditionary Wing

KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan, Nov. 29, 2013 – “One hundred and twenty years ago, in the midst of a great and terrible civil conflict, President Lincoln formally proclaimed a national day of Thanksgiving to remind those ‘insensible to the ever watchful providence of almighty God’ of this nation’s bounty and greatness. Several days after the dedication of the Gettysburg battlefield, the United States celebrated its first national Thanksgiving. Every year since then, our nation has faithfully continued this tradition. The time has come once again to proclaim a day of Thanksgiving, an occasion for Americans to express gratitude to their God and their country.”

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Afghanistan-deployed Air Force Staff Sgt. Dustin Hawkins, with the 451st Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron at Kandahar Airfield, talks to President Barack Obama on the phone, Nov. 28, 2013. The president thanked Hawkins for his service and talked football with him. Hawkins is deployed from Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho. U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jack Sanders

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

President Ronald Reagan shared those words in his 1983 Thanksgiving Day Proclamation, according to the United States Government Printing Office. Thirty years later, U.S. service members are in conflict in Afghanistan.

Lincoln, as referenced in Reagan’s speech, did not have the technology to make a phone call to the Civil War front lines to wish the troops well, but President Barack Obama does have the technology to call Afghanistan. And, yesterday on Thanksgiving, he did.

“I’m pretty nervous,” said Air Force Staff Sgt. Dustin Hawkins, just prior to receiving a call from the president. “I shook hands with Hillary Clinton once when she came through [RAF] Mildenhall [England]. I think I said, ‘Nice to meet you, ma’am.’”

Hawkins, who serves with the 451st Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, is deployed from Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho. This is Hawkins’ fourth deployment in six years, but the first in which he has received a call from the president.

“Good, Mr. President. How are you?” said Hawkins, when the president got on the phone. “Happy Thanksgiving to you too.”

The president thanked him for his work, Hawkins said. Obama also asked about the well-being of Hawkins’ family and thanked him for his dedicated service to his country. Hawkins had missed the births of both of his daughters due to deployments.

As a power production airman in civil engineering, Hawkins is responsible for maintaining, repairing and replacing 82 generators which support the more than 470,000 sorties flown from the Kandahar Airfield each year. Hawkins also provides support to electrical technicians anytime help is needed to support the mission.

Hawkins said in addition to asking about his family, the president talked football.

“Yes, sir. I’m a pretty big [Tennessee Volunteers] fan, so I have to stick with Peyton [Manning],” Hawkins said. “I hope this doesn’t end up being his last year.”

“Yes, sir. I will, and thank you very much,” Hawkins said as the roughly two-minute conversation came to a close.

According to his commander, Hawkins was nominated to potentially receive a call from the president because of his strong dedication to the mission and his unwavering work ethic.

“Staff Sgt. Hawkins has sacrificed so much in support of the mission here in Afghanistan,” said Air Force Maj. Aaron Brooks, 451 ECES commander. “He is the consummate professional, working extremely long and sometimes odd hours, leading his section to provide power to mission-critical assets out here in some pretty challenging conditions. People thank him for what he does and he usually just shrugs and says, ‘That's my job.’”

Receiving a call from the most-senior person in the military chain of command is something Hawkins earned consideration for through his hard work and sacrifice, said Brooks, who is deployed from Camp H.M. Smith, Hawaii. Brooks jokingly said Hawkins’ peers “will most certainly remind him of his new status.”

“I’m humbled my leadership saw me fit to nominate me to receive a call from the president,” Hawkins said. “It was a great honor, and I’m truly humbled.”

Following the call, Hawkins said the president sounds just he like does on television, and he was casual and easier to talk to than Hawkins imagined. He said he will never forget this once-in-a-lifetime phone call.


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