'Initial success or total failure' - Ultimate sacrifice not forgotten

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Daryl Knee
  • 52nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs
"Initial success or total failure" is the unofficial slogan of the U.S. Air Force's explosive ordnance disposal technicians.

The technicians work tirelessly in conflicts and engagements to disarm roadside bombs, clear routes and help achieve mission success. Their workspace while deployed is a complex and lethal battlefield, and the members of this tight-knit community take pride in their capabilities to protect and defend comrades, even at the cost of their own lives.

Joe Hamski was one such technician.

Joe was a staff sergeant assigned to the 52nd Civil Engineer Squadron's EOD Flight when he deployed to Afghanistan in 2011. Joe died May 26, 2011, while performing his job in the Kandahar province.

A year later, members of Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, honored the memory of Joe during three events here June 22: a fun run, an auditorium dedication and a college diploma ceremony. Joe's wife, mother and sister attended the three events to see how the Air Force would recognize his life.

"I just want to thank the Air Force for the honor that they've given for my son," said Mary-Ellen Winston, Joe's mother. "All of the training that he received, all the experiences he received, and all of the people who crossed his path, whether as leadership or as comrades, were what helped him become the fine man that he was and the brother that many of you knew."

It's very important for the military to remember not only Joe but all those who have fallen, she said. Unexpected death can happen to anyone. Life is fragile, and people need to live it the best they can.

"The ultimate sacrifice means that you're giving everything you possibly can," she continued. "And if you're giving your entire life, that's the most you can give to anything."

Patrick Saunders, 52nd CES EOD program analyst and coworker of Joe, said that to him, the ultimate sacrifice means a willingness to give life for a cause, to protect and defend U.S. and coalition lives and the joint mission. Honoring the person is the only thing that makes the pain of loss manageable.

"Honoring our fallen is a helpful way for the healing process -- we remember the people for who they were and what they did in their life, not just their death," he said. "In EOD, we're brothers in arms, and sometimes all we have is each other."

The base EOD flight hosted a "Jog 4 Joe" 5K fun run, where participants met, celebrated and talked about the importance of Joe's life. At the site, attendees could donate funds to the EOD Memorial or the Fisher House foundations, non-profit organizations dedicated to honoring or helping fallen warriors.

One of the runners said he could not do enough to honor and show respect for service members killed in action around the world.

"Sergeant Hamski gave the ultimate sacrifice," said Staff Sgt. David Levine, 52nd Maintenance Operations Squadron and participant of the fun run. "I'm thankful I'm able to show respect for Joe.

"This," he said gesturing toward the finish line, "is nothing compared to what he gave for his country."

After the fun run concluded, Joe's family met with base and civil engineer leadership at the Pitsenbarger Airman Leadership School for an auditorium dedication. The ALS staff renamed the auditorium to "Hamski Auditorium" and placed information plaques along the walls outside the room. Now, future attendees of the school can read the story behind Joe's legacy.

"There's a huge impact with renaming the ALS auditorium, because all Airmen coming through the schoolhouse can see the heroic deeds of Staff Sgt. Joe Hamski," said Master Sgt. Corey King, 52nd CES EOD flight and event coordinator. "His memory will never be lost; he won't be forgotten."

Airman leadership school is the first crucible of enlisted professional military education where junior Airmen interact with each other in an academic environment focused on growing frontline supervisors and future leaders. Nearly 350 Airmen here graduate the from school per year.

"Today, this airman leadership school classroom forever gains an identity, a face, an inspirational story through the memory of Staff Sgt. Joe Hamski," said Brig. Gen. Chris Weggeman, 52nd Fighter Wing commander. "It's so much more than a place we've given a name. To all Airmen, it's a cherished possession, a place where leaders are forged through Joe's example."

Airmen cannot fully take pride in themselves if they do not honor their past, said Staff Sgt. Christina Hamski, 52nd CES and Joe's widow.

"We can't say with real conviction that we're proud to be Airmen if we can't respect the people who came before us," she said. "Now, unfortunately, Joe is one of those people who has made a sacrifice to keep the Air Force a relevant force."

Mary-Ellen said she hopes and prays that future Airmen who come through the school will understand the importance of her son's sacrifice.

"I can think of no better place than Spangdahlem's ALS to put the unbridled spirit and warrior ethos of Joe Hamski to work for the benefit of all mankind," Weggeman said.

Later that evening at the base's Community College of the Air Force graduation ceremony, Weggeman presented Joe's posthumous diploma to Mary-Ellen.

The Air Force honored Joe's sacrifice by inviting his family to the events here, and Mary-Ellen said she was glad that Spangdahlem's Airmen understood the character of her son, Joe.

"People come up to me and they say, 'Thank you so much for your sacrifice,'" Mary-Ellen said. "And I say, 'I didn't sacrifice anything, it was my son who gave his life.' I live with the memory of that, but he was the one who sacrificed his life and was willing to do that."