Meridian Star

February 8, 2014

Harper addresses aviators at Winging

The Meridian Star

MERIDIAN — By Brian Livingston

    Mississippi Congressman Gregg Harper looked over to the 15 aviators sitting in the front rows of the NAS Meridian Chapel Friday and told them they should be proud they have completed the toughest flight training America has to offer.

    The aviators, that included young men from the U.S. Navy, Marine Corps, and the French Navy, received their Wings of Gold Friday during the most recent Winging Ceremony. Now they are aviators.

    Harper noted the relationship with France goes back to the birth of America. He told the aviators and their families and friends who also attended the ceremony that in the past you used to know who your enemies were, where the battle lines were drawn. But now, in this modern age of unconventional warfare against terrorist groups and insurgents, the fog of war has increased dramatically.

    "No matter where you go, please know that your countries, the people of your countries will be there to support you any way they can," Harper said. "It is a hostile world and that is why we need young people to fight for our freedoms."

    Those who received their wings Friday were, First Lt. Alexander Blank, USMC, Ensign Vincent Brechet, French navy, Capt. John Cylkowski, USMC, Capt. Christopher Da Pra, USMC, First Lt. James Galvin III, USMC, Ensign Bastien Herry, French navy, Lt. j.t. Nicholas Jones, USN, First Lt. Zebulun Josey, USMC, Ensign Bastien Lacanal, French navy, First Lt. Joshua Martin, USMC, Lt. j.g. Kyle Norlin, USN, Lt. j.g. Richard Siersma, USN, First Lt. Matthew Trevino, UMC, Lt. j.g. Jesse Varela, USN, Lt. j.g. Benjamin Watters, USN, and First Lt. Akinori Yonamine, USMC.

    Brechet of the French navy was only the third foreign aviator to be awarded the Golden Stick award for being the outstanding overall student in the class. The award is given by the Mississippi Council of the Navy League.

    The naval aviator designation ceremony is not prescribed specifically by U.S. Navy regulations, but has emerged as an honored product of the rich heritage of naval tradition. It marks the culmination of nearly two years of specialized training, which has prepared these officers for the rigorous demands of aerial combat and carrier operations — earning each the title of "Naval Aviator" and the right to wear the coveted "Wings of Gold."

    Harper said it was a unique opportunity for him to be at the Winging to meet the aviators on this important day for them.

    "This is the closing of one chapter in their careers and the opening of another," Harper said after the ceremony. "We all wish them the best of luck."