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The Final Guard Mount: remembering fallen Defenders

A memorial bears the names and images of fallen security forces Airmen during a Final Guard Mount ceremony May 15, 2020, at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey. The 39th Security Forces Squadron conducted the ceremony to conclude National Police Week. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joshua Magbanua)

A memorial bears the names and images of fallen security forces Airmen during a Final Guard Mount ceremony May 15, 2020, at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey. The 39th Security Forces Squadron conducted the ceremony to conclude National Police Week. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joshua Magbanua)

Candles flicker before a memorial for fallen security forces Airmen during a Final Guard Mount ceremony May 15, 2020, at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey. The 39th Security Forces Squadron conducted the ceremony at the end of National Police Week to honor the memory of Air Force law enforcers who have paid the ultimate sacrifice. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joshua Magbanua)

Candles flicker before a memorial for fallen security forces Airmen during a Final Guard Mount ceremony May 15, 2020, at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey. The 39th Security Forces Squadron conducted the ceremony at the end of National Police Week to honor the memory of Air Force law enforcers who have paid the ultimate sacrifice. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joshua Magbanua)

A battlefield cross sits on display during a Final Guard Mount ceremony May 15, 2020, at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey. The battlefield cross is a memorial which commemorates fallen troops, featuring a rifle, helmet and empty pair of boots. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joshua Magbanua)

A battlefield cross sits on display during a Final Guard Mount ceremony May 15, 2020, at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey. The battlefield cross is a memorial which commemorates fallen troops, featuring a rifle, helmet and empty pair of boots. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joshua Magbanua)

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Kevin McMahon, 39th Security Forces Squadron commander, provides closing remarks during a Final Guard Mount ceremony May 15, 2020, at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey. McMahon emphasized the importance of remembering the fallen, and encouraged his troops to draw strength from the memory of their comrades. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joshua Magbanua)

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Kevin McMahon, 39th Security Forces Squadron commander, provides closing remarks during a Final Guard Mount ceremony May 15, 2020, at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey. McMahon emphasized the importance of remembering the fallen, and encouraged his troops to draw strength from the memory of their comrades. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joshua Magbanua)

U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Elliot Bellinger, 39th Security Forces Squadron Alpha Flight chief, calls roll during a Final Guard Mount ceremony May 15, 2020, at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey. Guard mounts are daily formations in Air Force security forces units, wherein the Defenders receive their weapons and are briefed prior to beginning their shift. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joshua Magbanua)

U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Elliot Bellinger, 39th Security Forces Squadron Alpha Flight chief, calls roll during a Final Guard Mount ceremony May 15, 2020, at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey. Guard mounts are daily formations in Air Force security forces units, wherein the Defenders receive their weapons and are briefed prior to beginning their shift. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joshua Magbanua)

Airmen assigned to the 39th Security Forces Squadron stand in formation during a Final Guard Mount ceremony May 15, 2020, at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey. The ceremony consisted of a roll call which included the names of fallen Air Force law enforcers. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joshua Magbanua)

Airmen assigned to the 39th Security Forces Squadron stand in formation during a Final Guard Mount ceremony May 15, 2020, at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey. The ceremony consisted of a roll call which included the names of fallen Air Force law enforcers. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joshua Magbanua)

INCIRLIK AIR BASE, Turkey --

One of the sobering truths of serving as a Defender in the U.S. Air Force is that you never know when your next formation will be your last.

This is the solemn reminder Airmen of the 39th Security Forces Squadron (SFS) faced when they conducted a Final Guard Mount ceremony to conclude National Police Week on May 15.

“We all know of the individuals up here,” said Lt. Col. Kevin McMahon, 39th SFS commander, pointing to a memorial commemorating Defenders who have fallen throughout the years. “If you don’t, I challenge you to learn a little bit more about the sacrifices they made—the ultimate sacrifice for our freedoms, our liberties and our way of life.”

Guard mounts are daily formations in Air Force security forces units, wherein the Defenders receive their weapons and are briefed prior to beginning their shift.

Names were called during the formation, mirroring a regular guard mount. The fallen Airmen were inserted into the roster for the ceremony, so that when their names were called only silence would answer. The stories of the deceased were then read out during the roll call, including how they made their sacrifice.

Office of Special Investigations agents were also commemorated during the event.

McMahon emphasized the importance of remembering the fallen, saying he served as a pall bearer for one of the Airmen who were memorialized that day. He encouraged his Airmen to draw strength from the memory of these heroes whenever they find themselves in hard times.

“We owe it to them to do just that -- represent their legacy with honor,” he said. “Are you willing to give it all like these individuals did? I believe you are. I believe that every one of you who wear this uniform would make that sacrifice for the person to your right and left, because that’s who we are. That’s what we’re all about.”

It was a poignant moment for those in attendance, with numerous Airmen struggling to fight back tears. The ceremony served as a bittersweet reminder that military service involves sacrifice.

Master Sgt. Elliot Bellinger, 39th SFS Alpha Flight chief, led the ceremony and called out the names of the fallen. He mentioned that he felt a personal connection with the Airmen despite having never met them.

“Even though I don’t know the Defenders, I have crossed over the same lands where some of them unfortunately lost their lives,” said Bellinger. “I remembered being overcome with feelings of disbelief, anger and sorrow as we passed through; it’s at that point you make a connection with them that represents a bond truly stronger than blood.”

Bellinger emphasized the importance of security forces Airmen remembering their calling as Defenders, and explained that by fulfilling their duties with their heart and soul, they are upholding the memory of their fallen comrades.

Defenders “stand in the gap” for their communities during times of crises; a legacy which Bellinger, McMahon and all the Airmen of the 39th SFS are determined to carry on.

“We’re not only here to protect people from threats, but also to be there in someone’s most desperate times of need,” said Bellinger. “We are protectors, enforcers, counselors and most of all, wingmen to everyone we are sworn to protect.

“Honoring our fallen Defenders is important because these are our brothers and sisters who we have served with—and have paid the ultimate sacrifice for our nation,” he added. “They’re not just our co-workers, but also our friends, family and mentors who we no longer have the opportunity to be by our sides. Their memories are all we have left, and we owe it to them to ensure they are never forgotten.”