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DC3 Volunteers Land Success with Honor Flights

HonorFlight328 BALTIMORE (May 16, 2019) Jason Thimmes, (ITD) and TSgt Anthony Sweeney (ITD) greet veterans arriving to BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport during an Honor Flight welcome. DC3 employees routinely support the Honor Flight Network by volunteering their time to greet and support our Nation’s war veterans as they arrive to and depart from BWI. (Photo by Stephen Murphy)

By Stephen Murphy, DC3 Public Affairs

BALTIMORE -- The flag-waving crowd of nearly 100 people cheered loudly as the airline passengers began making their way out of the jet bridge and into the Concourse B terminal at BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport. This was not your typical scene at BWI, but this was also not a typical group of passengers.

The more than 100 people exiting the plane consisted of U.S. military veterans of wars spanning from World War II to the Gulf War. The event is known as an Honor Flight welcome, and is organized by the Honor Flight Network (HFN), a nationwide non-profit organization whose mission is to pay tribute to America’s veterans by providing free trips to the National Mall for a tour of the monuments and memorials honoring the wars in which they served.

Among those in the crowd were DoD Cyber Crime Center (DC3) employees participating in an Honor Flight volunteer program headed up by TSgt Benjamin Barnhill from the Information Technology Division. He implemented the program more than two years ago in response to a suggestion he received when seeking ways to expand his DC3 volunteer program he implemented in 2015.

“At that time we did one event a quarter which was nominated by one of our military members,” said Barnhill. “This primarily consisted of working with the Maryland Food Bank. In 2017, [Chief, Information Technology Division] Stephen Johnson mentioned the honor flight program, and this led to our first event.”

Barnhill and three others volunteered for the first event where they greeted a group of World War II veterans. Their efforts resulted in positive feedback from HFN coordinators and the volunteers.

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BALTIMORE – (May 16, 2019) A Korea War veteran is greeted by supporters during an Honor Flight welcome at BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport. (Photo by Stephen Murphy)

“Being local, directly supporting military members and the feedback from the first event, Honor Flights became a hit right away,” Barnhill said. Shortly after, as Barnhill explained, he formally established the Honor Flight as a monthly event, inviting [DC3] military, [and off-duty] civilians and [supporting contractor employees].

Honor Flight events usually take place once a month, sometimes two or three times a month, and last anywhere from 1-3 hours depending on the amount of honorees on the flight. Volunteer duties consist of greeting veterans departing the airplane and then giving the veterans a send-off with a military salute as they depart on buses bound for Washington, D.C.

“We did not want to reinvent the wheel,” said Griffith. “Plenty of COTS (commercial off-the-shelf) and GOTS (government off-the-shelf) tools parse and interpret data sources. We leverage these existing technologies and layer in a correlation component that brings to light relationships between devices, both accounted for and otherwise missing.”

Barnhill said prior to helping HFN with its efforts, his inspiration for volunteering was for different reasons.

“Being completely honest, initially my motivation for volunteering was selfish,” said Barnhill. “As a military member we are expected to perform some volunteer service for annual reviews. Personally, I like to volunteer at events for groups that I believe have earned and deserve [help], or of no fault of their own, have fallen on hard times.

In this case, these military members fought for us, and in many cases returned to a society [that was] against them, especially during the Vietnam era. This event provides us the opportunity to right that wrong … giving the veterans the greeting they deserved. After participating a couple times, I now participate because I want to; not because I should.”

Jason Thimmes, DC3/ITD, is a 13-year Army veteran and has volunteered for every Honor Flight event since DC3 began participating in September 2017.

“I enjoy giving back to the services when and where I can,” said Thimmes. “Seeing the true joy and gratitude on their faces as they get off the plane and are greeted by a terminal of strangers, all cheering and thanking them for their service, creates an infectious energy within the crowd - I'd call it renewed patriotism.”

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WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Retired Air Col. Ron Hunt,
a Vietnam War veteran, poses for a photo during
an Honor Flight trip to the National Mall in
Washington, D.C., May 24. (Photo by Chris Hunt)

The Honor Flight Network hit close to the DC3 home this past Memorial Day weekend when retired Air Force Col. Ron Hunt, father of Chris Hunt from the DC3 Cyber Forensics Laboratory, received an Honor Flight welcome at the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Washington D.C. Hunt served two tours in Vietnam as an F-4 Phantom pilot, once in 1967 and again in 1972.

“About a month ago, I got a call from Honor Flight Dayton asking me if I was available for a trip to Reagan Airport in Washington D.C.,” said Hunt. “I accepted quickly but had no idea how wonderful and emotional the trip would be.” Hunt joined 110 veterans of the Korean and Vietnam Wars for a huge sendoff in Dayton, Ohio. The sendoff was followed by a grand welcome for the veterans when landing in D.C., where hundreds of people greeted them.

“All the folks who came out to greet us at such an early time,” said Hunt. “I had multiple handshakes, was given lots of cards and other items; really a super welcome! The biggest surprise was being greeted by my son Chris, who was going to be my guardian for the day. Such a nice welcome. Honor Flights are a great way to appreciate and thank our veterans.”

Every year, HFN organizes thousands of Honor Flight welcomes and send-offs at hundreds of airports in 47 states throughout the U.S. The organization is able to fund the free trips through private donations from individuals, foundations, associations, business owners and corporations.

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, an estimated 640 World War II veterans die each day, so they will receive top priority. Subsequent to the World War II veterans, Honor Flight Network efforts will then focus on the Korean War and then Vietnam War veterans, honoring them similarly.

For more information about the Honor Flight Network, visit https://www.honorflight.org/.