RAF MILDENHALL, England --
Back in 2012, then-Master Sgt. Travis Clawson was an instructor at the U.S. Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, Colorado. His role included teaching the cadets about military discipline and the enlisted corps, and overseeing their leadership style.
“You’re basically their first sergeant, commander’s support staff and professional military education instructor,” explained now-Chief Master Sgt. Clawson, 100th Civil Engineer Squadron installation fire chief, about the 584 cadets he taught during his tenure.
Cadets attend the academy for four years and then commission after graduation.
When it came time for his students’ graduation, one of the new officers, then-2nd Lt. Anthony Caliva, chose Clawson to be the recipient of his first salute known as the “silver dollar salute.”
“I chose him for my silver dollar salute because he was a great mentor, he looked out for me and the other cadets and really got to know us as individuals,” said Capt. Anthony Caliva, 351st Air Refueling Squadron pilot. “I wanted my first salute to come from someone I looked up to, and that was Chief Clawson.”
The silver dollar salute is a military tradition whereby a silver dollar is given in exchange for the first salute. While it may be a token sum, it represents something of much greater value. To new officers, it can represent the respect found in the newly earned rank and position. It has been said that the new officer must buy his first salute as he has not yet, by the nature of the deed alone, earned it.
“He was the kind of person who you could go to his office and talk to for mentorship and advice, he was very personable and it really meant a lot to us as cadets to have someone who listened, cared and looked out for us,” said Caliva.
Six years later, Clawson repaid that honor by having Caliva reenlist him at Royal Air Force Mildenhall, Sept. 2, 2020.
“I know Chief Clawson has influenced a number of individuals throughout his career, and the fact that he asked me to reenlist him after all this time absolutely blows me away,” said a humbled Caliva.
Until recently, the two weren’t aware they were stationed at the same base. Clawson said he ran into his friend and former cadet at a wing meeting, where Caliva was being presented with a safety award.
“With him being one of my previous cadets, I was happy to see him ‘grown up’ and succeeding. Having him do it was just a closer connection with Capt. Caliva now being a commissioned officer and being charged with that duty, to give me the oath.”
Clawson’s reenlistment did come with an unexpected surprise. Clawson’s brother, who is also stationed at RAF Mildenhall was going to be the flag bearer for his ceremony, but was away on other duties. What surprised Clawson however was that three other former academy cadets were able to attend his ceremony.
"I didn't realize I had an impact on Caliva and the others, but his words surprised me, and I wasn't ready for that," said the fire chief.