MINOT AIR FORCE BASE, N.D. --
There are hundreds of thousands of people who have been affected by the tragedy of service members becoming prisoners of war or missing in action.
To pay respect for these individuals, military bases across the U.S. have been hosting commemorations annually on the third Friday of September known as National Prisoner of War/Missing in Action Recognition Day.
This day was established by an Act of Congress, by the passage of Section 1082 of the 1998 Defense Authorization Act and it is one of only six days that the POW/MIA Flag can be flown.
Master Sgt. Kyle Bookhardt, 5th Contracting Squadron construction flight noncommissioned officer in charge, was the head of this year’s event at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota.
Bookhardt has been at Minot AFB for more than a year and considers it an honor to be able to recognize the service members who came before us.
“I’ve always liked the POW/MIA event,” said Bookhardt. “The idea is to remember our brothers and sisters who were POWs and also to pay tribute to those that are still missing in action.”
The planning for this year’s commemoration began in February and more than 700 people have been involved with it.
Tech. Sgt. Shelby Bird, 5th Communications Squadron intrusion detection systems NCOIC, has also been greatly involved with this year’s event. She incorporated things that were done for the POW/MIA event at her last base and added them to this year’s event at Minot.
For instance, the biker escorts and the 24 hour name reading were events that Bird added in order to make this year’s event even bigger than it was in past years.
Bird said she wanted the event to be something that signifies the amount of people who are still POW/MIA and the struggles that they’ve gone through.
“These events are huge for awareness and getting people to realize that we still have hundreds and thousands of prisoners of war and missing in action,” said Bird. “The flag says right on there, ‘not forgotten’ and I think that that’s our responsibility to make sure they are not.”
The event began with a lone runner carrying the POW/MIA flag while being escorted by 30 bikers.
“The lone runner signifies that we have people out there all by themselves still fighting for our freedom,” said Bird.
The runner then made his way to the outdoor track at the McAdoo Fitness Center and handed the flag off to the first volunteer for the 24 hour run. Volunteers participated by running in 30 minute intervals while carrying the POW/MIA flag.
During the run, the names of POW/MIA service members were read and an alignment of donated boots were placed along the inside of the track to signify the people who are unable to stand with us today.
After the 24 hour run, the event concluded in a closing ceremony at the McAdoo Fitness Center with a guest speaker, retired Captain William Robinson, who was a POW for more than seven years.
The POW/MIA event also involved the help of approximately 500 volunteers. Bird said what made this event so unique is that the volunteers did it out of pure compassion.
“A lot of volunteer things have a personal benefit to them and this is one of those that doesn’t,” said Bird. “You don’t get anything in return except for the satisfaction of knowing that you’ve supported such a worthy cause, so that’s what I love so much about it.”
Bookhardt, who plans on getting involved with this event again in the upcoming years, said this event is bigger than ourselves and this is why we wear the military uniform in the first place.
Like Bookhardt, Bird also plans on being involved with the event in the future and says people should look forward to the bigger and better event next year because this event is just going to keep growing.
“I want every year for it to be known that on POW/MIA Recognition Day that this is happening and people are jumping at the chance to do it because it’s become a staple at Minot Air Force Base.”