As the leader of tens of thousands of special operations airmen performing clandestine and high-planned missions around the world, Lt. Gen. Brad Heithold is unlikely to be too fond of surprises.
Last week, he received a big one.
The top boss of the Air Force’s special operations community was presented with an engraved invitation to his Order of the Sword induction ceremony.
The Order of the Sword is the highest award the enlisted corps can bestow upon an officer for significant contributions to the enlisted corps.
Roughly 150 people joined Chief Master Sgt. Matt Caruso, Air Force Special Operations Command command chief, to present Heithold his invitation to an exclusive group.
“This goes down as the proudest day of my Air Force career,” Heithold said. “This is probably the best thing that could ever happen to an officer; to be recognized in this fashion.”
Heithold will be the 10th person to receive the AFSOC Order of the Sword, and the ceremony is scheduled for Nov. 18 at Hurlburt Field, Fla. The general was nominated by President Obama, and confirmed by the Senate, to become principal deputy director of cost assessment and program assessment for the Office of the Secretary of Defense in Washington, D.C. He is scheduled to move to the Pentagon in June.
Heithold has served as AFSOC commander since July 3, 2014, and this honor recognizes his conspicuous and significant contributions to the welfare and prestige of the Air Force enlisted force, mission effectiveness as well as the overall military establishment.
Few traditions, however, are as ancient and honored as The Order of the Sword. Founded during the Middle Ages and adapted in the Twentieth Century, The Order of the Sword is the highest honor an enlisted member may bestow upon an officer.
The origins of this ceremony date back to Sweden in the year 1522. The nation’s ruling authority, King Gustavas I, had displayed ideal leadership, strength and provision to his people, which in turn formed a disciplined, orderly and loyal followership within his military.
The people were proud to serve someone of such devotion. Wishing to honor their leader with a symbol that represented “truth, justice, and power rightfully used,” the people presented King Gustavas I with a sword. This sword announced to the masses that this particular king was of highest esteem and dignity.
The Order of the Sword was formally adopted by the Air Force nearly half a century ago and is based on this historical example. Since it is the highest award an enlisted member may impart to an officer, the criteria for nominees is stringent.
One must possess outstanding leadership, tireless commitment and unwavering devotion to those serving under him or her. It is up to the enlisted force to nominate this individual.
Exceptional leaders are those who inspire their followers to be better than they were before. They inspire discipline, integrity, and create future leaders within their followership every single day. Those leadership traits are vital to the success of the U.S. Air Force and are recognized at the highest level by the presentation of the Order of the Sword.