NEW YORK – Hanscom Airmen, led by Capt. Gina Beinhaur, march down Fifth Avenue during the 250th St. Patrick’s Day parade on March 17. Along with Airmen from Hanscom, the Band of Liberty, Air Force Honor Guard and several members of the Air National Guard from New England and New York marched during the one of the world’s largest St. Patrick’s Day parades. (Courtesy photo)
NEW YORK – Capt. Gina Beinhaur (left) salutes Maj. Gen. Darren W. McDew, commander, Air Force District of Washington, after accepting a coin from him following the St. Patrick’s Day parade. General McDew told the Airmen he was proud of how they represented the Air Force during the parade. (Courtesy photo)
by Sarah Olaciregui
66th Air Base Group Public Affairs
3/24/2011 - HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. -- More than 70 Hanscom Airmen, along with members of the Air Force Band of Liberty, Air Force Honor Guard and various Air National Guardsmen from throughout New England and New York state marched through the streets of New York City for the 250th St. Patrick's Day parade on March 17.
The parade, which is one of the largest of its kind in the world, marches up Fifth Avenue past St. Patrick's Cathedral at 50th Street and past the American Irish Historical Society until it ends at the Metropolitan Museum of Art at 83rd to 86th streets.
According to reports, in a typical year, 150,000 marchers participate in the parade, including bands, firefighters, military and police groups, county associations, emigrant societies and social and cultural clubs. This year, parade committee members estimated that 2.5 million were in attendance, more than 2 million watched on television and another 2 million people tuned in to the parade via webcast.
"What an amazing experience!" said Capt. Gina Beinhaur, Tricare Operations and Patient Administration flight commander for the 66th Medical Squadron, who served as the contingent's commander of troops. "We could feel the appreciation from the crowd as they said 'Thank you' when we marched down the street."
Many of the Hanscom Airmen felt inspired and motivated as they marched.
"I'm from New York and I had never been to a St. Patty's Day parade," said Staff Sgt. Natalie Gonzalez, a knowledge operations manager from the Battle Management Directorate. "For me, this was a once in a lifetime opportunity to take part in something in the city I grew up in."
"It seemed like the crowd got louder as we walked by," said 2nd Lt. Eric Gazell, a project manager with the Cyber/Netcentric Directorate. "Kids' faces would light up and everyone was cheering for us. I used this experience to be a representative of the Air Force and an opportunity to inspire others."
Other Airmen used the experience as a reminder as to why they serve and a motivator to continue serving.
"Here at Hanscom, sometimes we may feel a little detached from the greater Air Force," said Airman 1st Class Kari Meckling, unit deployment manager for the 66th Medical Squadron. "Marching in the parade made me feel like I was a part of something bigger than myself."
According to the marchers, this was the first time the Air Force was represented in the 250 years of the parade.
"We were a part of history," said Airman 1st Class Ksana Bialick, an aerospace medical technician with the 66th Medical Squadron. "It definitely reminded me of why I serve."
Captain Beinhaur echoed Airman Bialick's remarks.
"We set a precedent as the first Air Force contingent in the parade," she said.
And the Airmen proved their worth. Maj. Gen. Darren W. McDew, commander, Air Force District of Washington at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., and the senior Air Force representative for the parade, told the marchers how proud he was as they walked by the reviewing stand.
"I think he was a little nervous because he didn't know what to expect from us," said Captain Beinhaur. "He knew what to expect from the honor guard and band because they do this type of thing day in and day out, but we weren't a professional marching group. I think we definitely scored some pride points with him."
At the end of the parade General McDew met the group outside the Museum of Modern Art and conducted a surprise reenlistment ceremony for a technical sergeant from the Air National Guard. Afterwards, he presented a coin to Captain Beinhaur for her work on leading the contingent through the parade.
"I wish I could cut the coin up and give a piece to everyone who participated," Captain Beinhaur said. "Everyone did such a great job."
It wasn't just the marchers that did a great job though. The group commended several people from across Hanscom that made their experience such a memorable one.
Master Sgt. Jamie Williams, first sergeant for the 66th Medical Squadron, held several marching practice sessions prior to the parade.
"The Shirt prepared us and did an excellent job of getting us ready," said Captain Beinhaur. "Her skills from being a drill sergeant and member of the honor guard came in handy and helped us go above and beyond."
Other base personnel, such as Chaplains Moncrief and Gorton, as well as several senior NCOs, including Master Sgt. Elizabeth Burrell, Master Sgt. Pattie Hassan, Master Sgt. Michael Shimkus and Senior Master Sgt. Kathleen Chapter, made sure the Airmen were taken care of, helped the parade observers get excited as the group passed by and made sure everyone returned home safely.
But the lesson of the day for the Airmen was teamwork.
"Although we were marching with other units, we were marching together" said Sergeant Gonzalez. "We used many of the skills they taught us in basic training. It just goes to show you no matter where you're spread out, you can come together as one team."
"The Air Force definitely lived up to the 'Do Something Amazing' commercials," said Airman Bialick. "I did something amazing and it's an experience I'll never forget."