Liberty Warriors remember one of our own

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Torri Ingalsbe
  • 48th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Editor's note: The Senior Airman Jason D. Nathan Gate was dedicated June 1. Airman Nathan was mortally wounded by an improvised explosive device June 23, 2007 while on combat patrol in Tikrit, Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Although an overcast sky and chilly winds are common English weather, for me and dozens of Liberty Airmen, June 1 was anything but common. 

I attended the dedication of Lakenheath's "back gate" to Senior Airman Jason D. Nathan because it was my job. I was supposed to cover the event and write a typical news story explaining the "who, what, when, why, where and how." I was not prepared for the emotional ride this dedication took me on, nor the deep humbleness that I felt afterward. 

It seemed to me the wind stood still when Airman Nathan's family took their places in the front row of dozens of Liberty Airmen. Their strength gave me a chill that had nothing to do with the weather. Despite the somber atmosphere, there was a proud resilience that made me want to stand a little straighter and hold my salute a little tighter. 

Being a fairly new Airman, I'm not what you would call "seasoned." Airman Nathan's death was the first military casualty I've experienced in my short career and it hit close to home. Although I didn't know him, I was filled with grief and gratitude when I heard his story. 

Airman Nathan, or "Nate," as his friends called him, gave the ultimate sacrifice. He gave his life for me, for his country and for the freedom of people he'll never meet. 

Hearing Nate's story from some of the people who knew him best was one of the best parts of the day. My heart ached and it was difficult to fight back the tears as grown men choked on their words when they spoke of Nate's heroism and courage. I tried to imagine going on after losing someone who I'd trusted with my life, and I don't know how they do it. 

Senior Master Sgt. Killjan Anderson was Nate's police transition team leader. He gave us a first-hand account of the day Nate lost his life. He said Nate's job that day was to provide protection to the last vehicle in their convoy. He was in the turret of the HMMWV when an improvised explosive device detonated in front it. A shiver ran from the toes of my boots to the tip of my hat when Sergeant Anderson asked us what we thought happened to the vehicle Nate was responsible for. 

"Absolutely nothing," he said. "There wasn't even a scratch on vehicle four." Nate did his job that day. 

Maj. John Northon, 48th Security Forces Squadron commander said that each new security forces Airman's first post is gate guard. These sentinels face all types of weather and still put their best foot forward to give the best impression they can of their base and the Air Force. I looked down at my own boots, which I'd shined that morning, and realized how sharp the cops at the gate always look. They're always pressed and shined to the hilt, knowing you only get one chance to make a first impression. 

I couldn't help but think of the new Airmen who will be posted at the Nathan Gate. Will they know what he did for his fellow Airmen? Will they feel the humbleness I felt upon the realization of how precious each one of us is? I know somewhere down the road, I'll be able to run into one of those Airmen. I hope, as Major Northon said, that "they'll stand a little straighter, with their head a little higher", when they tell me their first post in the Air Force was the Senior Airman Jason D. Nathan Gate.