A formal water salute and a celebratory shower, compliments of the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base military and civilian community, greeted Air Force Materiel Command Commander Gen. Ellen Pawlikowski as she landed one final time at the base aboard a C-21 Aug. 7.
Pawlikowski’s ‘Final Flight’ celebration, redolent of the aviator ‘Fini Flight’ tradition, served as an opportunity for 88th Air Base Wing personnel to wish her farewell and good luck as she moves into retirement following 40 years of distinguished military service.
“This is a celebration of Gen. Pawlikowski’s amazing career and provided all of us at Wright-Patterson a chance to say good-bye and thank you to her for her support,” said Col. Thomas Sherman, 88 ABW and installation commander. “She is a remarkable leader and phenomenal Airman, and we wish her the best as she opens the next chapter of her life.”
More than 200 military and civilian Airmen from across the Wright-Patterson footprint joined the AFMC and base leadership on the flight line to participate in the celebratory event. As an emotional Pawlikowski exited the aircraft, the Air Force Band of Flight played the Air Force Song, and base leaders offered their congratulations and best wishes for the future.
“We jointly planned this as a surprise for the commander, and we can definitely say it was mission success,” said Sherman. “What a great opportunity to farewell an honored Airman.”
Two lines of Airmen clapped and cheered Pawlikowski as she made a final walk through the formation and “high-fived” attendees, much like athletes congratulate one another at the end of a basketball or other sporting event.
“This was a great surprise, and I don’t know what else to say, but ‘thank you,’” said Pawlikowski. “Thank you for what you do every day, thank you for your friendship and thank you for being the great Americans that you are.”
The ‘Fini Flight’ is a military tradition that can be traced back to early days of military aviation, where aircrews would celebrate career and flight milestones in the company of fellow Airmen, family and friends. Today, the final flight serves not only as an opportunity to celebrate the accomplishments of an Airman, but it provides a chance to foster esprit de corps and greater camaraderie and teamwork for all generations of Airmen through celebrated tradition.