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Nelson Wins Award

MCCHORD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. -- Medical Airmen here carry their gear onboard a C-17 Globemaster III here June 21 to prepare for the arrival of patients.  Configuring the aircraft to receive patients is one of the competition categories at Rodeo 2005.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Jack Braden)

MCCHORD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. -- Medical Airmen here carry their gear onboard a C-17 Globemaster III here June 21 to prepare for the arrival of patients. Configuring the aircraft to receive patients is one of the competition categories at Rodeo 2005. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Jack Braden)

MCCHORD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. -- A C-17 Globemaster III is prepared for flight June 21 during Rodeo 2005.  Flight crews from around the world have gathered here to compete in such events as airlift, airdrops and medical evacuation.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Jack Braden)

MCCHORD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. -- A C-17 Globemaster III is prepared for flight June 21 during Rodeo 2005. Flight crews from around the world have gathered here to compete in such events as airlift, airdrops and medical evacuation. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Jack Braden)

MCCHORD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. -- Soldiers from nearby Fort Lewis wait for a C-17 Globemaster III to taxi into position during Rodeo 2005 here June 21.  The Soldiers carried mannequins with simulated battle wounds onto the aircraft for a simulated aerial medical evacuation.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Jack Braden)

MCCHORD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. -- Soldiers from nearby Fort Lewis wait for a C-17 Globemaster III to taxi into position during Rodeo 2005 here June 21. The Soldiers carried mannequins with simulated battle wounds onto the aircraft for a simulated aerial medical evacuation. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Jack Braden)

CHARLESTON AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. -- Every Air Force Reservist makes sacrifices. That’s why Lt. Col. Charlene Nelson felt a little uncomfortable when she found out the Ground Zero Association wanted to honor her for the sacrifices she has made since 9/11. 

Colonel Nelson is the executive officer for the 315th Airlift Wing, Charleston Air Force Base, S.C. When she got the call that the Ground Zero Association wanted to present her with one of two special American flags it owns, she said she would accept it only if she could do so on behalf of all the men and women of the 315th. 

“I work with people every day who gave up way more than I did to serve this country following 9/11,” the colonel said. “There was no way I could accept this honor for myself. The only way I could take it was if I could, in turn, pass it on to everybody in the 315th.” 

The now-tattered flag was carried on to the site of the World Trade Center by rescue workers during the early hours after the terrorist attack on Sept. 11, 2001. It was initially posted on a makeshift staff inside the general rescue area of the South Tower. After the flag was knocked down several times, it was moved to a more secure position inside a window overlooking the rescue efforts. The flag was removed from the window Oct. 24, 2001, and presented to Donna Dillinger, representing the families of 9/11 victims. She gave the flag to the Ground Zero Association Sept. 11, 2002. 

The Ground Zero Association is made up of people who were at the World Trade Center the day of the attack; rescue, relief and recovery workers who served at the site; police and other law enforcement workers who were there; military members who served at the site after 9/11; family members who lost loved ones; and volunteers who helped the rescue crews.
Phillip Lovin, a retired North Carolina Emergency Response Team member and a technical rescue specialist who volunteered at Ground Zero, said the Ground Zero Association wanted to give the flag to Colonel Nelson because she represents all of the Air Force Reservists who put their lives on hold and sacrificed to serve their country for the cause of freedom. He made the flag presentation to Colonel Nelson Oct. 21. The 315th is currently working on a display case for the flag and a brief description of its history.
“As firefighters, we are the barrier between the people and the flames,” Mr. Lovin said at the ceremony. “As Air Force Reservists, you are the barrier between the country and the flames of terror, and you will not back down no matter how hot it gets.” 

Colonel Nelson put in a lot of long hours at Charleston after 9/11, and she had to close the doors on her successful chiropractic practice in Greenville, S.C., in February 2003 when she was activated to support the global war on terror. At the time, she was a maintenance supervisor for the 315th Maintenance Squadron. In April 2003, she was named commander of the 315th MXS. She was selected as the wing’s executive officer in November 2004. 

Not only did Colonel Nelson give up her practice when she was called to service, she also saw her marriage of 13 years come to an end.
Still, she said she is proud to have had the opportunity to serve, and she will keep serving as long as she is needed. 

“I was a one-doc shop, so I had no choice but to close my practice,” she said. “I’ll resume practicing one day. … maybe I’ll be the first chiropractor in the Reserve.”
There aren’t very many female chiropractors around, and Colonel Nelson had found her niche in a practice that catered primarily to women, children and elderly patients.
“The Air Force taught me that I could make it in a male-dominated field,” she said. 
“When I first enlisted, there weren’t very many women working in aircraft maintenance.”
Colonel Nelson enlisted in the Air Force in 1980 and went to work as an aircraft maintenance technician on C-130s at Pope AFB, N.C. She was commissioned in 1989 through the Officer Training School at Lackland AFB, Texas. She separated from active duty in 1992 and joined the Air Force Reserve without a break in service. 

“There’s something very special about the Air Force Reserve,” the colonel, who still thinks of herself as a crew chief at heart, said. “The Reserve is full of people who have had to be separated from their families, who have lost their jobs or businesses, and still they continue to serve. It’s a very special family to be a part of.” 

Colonel Nelson said she came close to leaving the Reserve on a couple of different occasions during her career, but something always kept her in. 

“When I started going to chiropractic school in Atlanta, it was just too hard to commute back and forth to my Reserve duty in Charleston, so I turned in my letter of resignation,” she recalled. “Luckily, my commander tore it up and helped me find an assignment at Dobbins (Air Reserve Base, Ga.). I’ve found over the years that Reservists really look out for each other.” 

Maybe that’s why Colonel Nelson wouldn’t accept the flag from the Ground Zero Association unless she could do so on behalf of the men and women she works with every day – Reservists really do look out for each other.

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