‘Challenger’ visits Nellis AFB Airmen, families

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Mikaley Towle
  • 99th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
He stands almost three feet tall and despite his weighty appearance, only tips the scale at approximately six pounds. He embodies strength and is seen as a patriotic symbol of freedom.

Challenger, named in honor of the space shuttle crew, is a non-releasable bald eagle that makes educational appearances throughout the country to raise awareness for the now recovering species.

The bald eagle visited Nellis Air Force Base Airmen and their families during stops to Lomie G. Heard Elementary School, 757th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron Eagle and Strike Aircraft Maintenance Units, and the U.S. Air Force Warfare Center May 29.

"I had never seen an American bald eagle before and I just so happen to love them," said Master Sgt. Kara Barcomb, 757th AMXS Eagle AMU first sergeant. "It was a very special moment for me and it made me feel very proud to see our nation's bird, which represents America's freedom."

Challenger's visit to Nellis AFB helped to inspire the service members and families that call the base home.

"The bald eagle signifies strength and freedom of spirit, two things exemplified by the Airmen of Nellis AFB," said Lt. Col. Jason Forest, 53rd Test and Evaluation Group deputy commander. "Bringing Challenger to Nellis inspires the patriotic spirit of those who work tirelessly to protect our freedoms and improve our capability to win our nation's battles in the air, space and cyberspace."

Challenger also brought awareness to the preservation efforts being made to protect these creatures and their habitats.

"The education effect on Nellis' children getting up close to Challenger and experiencing a bald eagle in flight close enough to reach, are life long," said Forest. "They will carry with them both a love of country and a love of the bald eagle that represents it. They will share this experience with friends and family. The experience may inspire some to service, protecting the nation that Challenger represents."

Challenger was declared non-releasable in 1989 due to human imprinting at a young age. Since then, he has become a world famous ambassador for his species in the wild.

"He is the first eagle in U.S. history trained to free-fly into stadiums during the singing of the Star Spangled Banner and has appeared at many major sporting events over the years," said Al Cecere, founder, president and CEO of the American Eagle Foundation.

Cecere said, there is an ongoing need to educate every generation of Americans to care for and protect the bald eagle for future generations to enjoy.

"The bald eagle was once an endangered species and we almost lost the bald eagle population in the U.S. due to our own ignorance and neglect," said Cecere. "Every generation should learn about the importance of protecting wildlife and their ecosystems."

On May 1, 2007, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed a special resolution naming June 20, "National American Eagle Day."

(Editor's note: The mention of the nonprofit organization American Eagle Foundation does not constitute endorsement or affiliation by Nellis Air Force Base or the U.S. Air Force.)