The United States Air Force is being honored by the Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Military Park, during what's known as Air Force Salute to Service Week.
An opening ceremony was held Friday at the park.
The United States Air Force was established as its own branch of the nation's military in 1947. However, as explained by keynote speaker Colonel Steven Parker, American use of the air in warfare predates the introduction of airplanes.
It started with Benjamin Franklin pondering the use of balloons to drop explosives. Decades later, during the Civil War, balloons were put to use effectively. "In 1861, (Thaddeus) Lowe mapped Confederate positions at Falls Church, Virginia," said Col. Parker, who is Commander of the 914th Airlift Wing at Niagara Falls. "It was the first successful signifcant contribution of manned flight in American warfare." Today, the Air Force uses various aircraft, manned and unmanned, to serve a multi-faceted mission including air and space superiority, quick response, and surveillance. Many based at Niagara Falls, for example, are now piloting drones deployed elsewhere around the globe. "Due to technological advances, we now fly faster, farther and higher than ever before using aircraft and spacecraft that no one could have imagined at the time of our service's creation," said Col. Parker. Congressman Brian Higgins was also present for the ceremony, noting that the military's mission is more than combat but also winning hearts and minds of people abroad. "They work that they do in villages, in remote villages in Afghanistan and Iraq, is just a testament to the extraordinary preparation, courage, vision and patriotism of these individuals," Higgins said. Following the remarks, a C-130 plane from the Niagara Air Base flew over the park, a move that officials say was arranged shortly before the start of the ceremony to give it an extra perk.