Earlier this month Arlington County police officers in the Crystal City area were puzzled as to why the reception on their portable radios was fading in and out.
Officials quickly determined the cause was a 170-foot-high steel spire that is part of the new U.S. Air Force Memorial being constructed at the Navy Annex property.
WITH THEIR microwave signal temporarily weakened, police officers used alternate radio channels from June 14-16, while Verizon Communications worked to install permanent upgraded T-1 lines. The problem was minor and police and public safety was not compromised, said Robert Griffin, director of the Office of Emergency Management.
"We have a special relationship with the military," said Det. Steve Gomez of the Arlington County Police. "There are not hard feelings, and it was just an unfortunate occurrence. We have taken care of this problem."
Construction of the memorial was not delayed, and the steel spires continue to be built. Police officials explained that it is hard to predict when a building or object will interfere with radio transmissions, but that is was important to have a backup plan in the case that an object caused communication problems.
The U.S. Air Force is currently the only branch of the military without a memorial in the Washington metropolitan area. More than 53,000 members of the U.S. Air Force and its predecessor organizations, including the Army Air Corps, have died in the line of duty — the second most of any branch of service.
Many believe the Memorial is long overdue. "We arrived to that point in history where we need to pay tribute to the sacrifices these people have made," said USAF Maj. Gen (Ret.) Edward Grillo.
Architect James Ingo Freed's main design challenge for the Memorial was to evoke the medium of flight symbolic of the U.S. Air Force. "We think he did a magnificent job with the soaring spires that look like they are rising into the heavens," Grillo said.
THE SPIRES, one of which will rise to a height of 270 feet, are the most recognizable part of the memorial. Other prominent features include a bronze Honor Guard sculpture, a glass wall illustrating a Missing Man Formation and landscaped memorial park and parade grounds.
Groundbreaking for the Memorial began Sept. 15, 2004, and even though it is not scheduled to be completed until this September, many visitors have already come to observe the construction.
Jason Fisher, a USAF Technical Sergeant, watches the new Memorial progress every day from his office window in the Pentagon. "Once you get out there to the actual Memorial it's an amazing design that reflects the image of the Air Force," he said. "I think that past, present and future members of the Air Force will enjoy coming to see it."
In 1992, the nonprofit U.S. Air Force Memorial Foundation was created by Congress specifically to undertake the project of building the memorial.
Since then, it has coordinated a massive grassroots campaign to raise money for the project. The total cost of the memorial will be nearly $50 million.
Major donors for the project include defense contractors Lockheed Martin and Boeing, which have both given in excess of $5 million. Northrop Grumman and Raytheon have also chipped in more than $2 million.
Originally, the facility was to be built next to the Iwo Jima Memorial and Netherlands Carillon Memorial, but that decision sparked controversy with the U.S. Marines.
Air Force Memorial Foundation Board of Trustee members and the Air Force worked with Congress to select the new site at the Naval Annex, which overlooks the Washington skyline.