The highest-ranking officer in the Air Force addressed hundreds of uniformed personnel during his visit to Tucson on Saturday.
But his most important audience was the three children of Capt. Nathan Nylander, who was being honored posthumously with a Silver Star for putting others first on April 27, when an Afghan military pilot opened fire during a meeting at an airport in Kabul.
Midway through the medal ceremony, Gen. Norton A. Schwartz, Air Force chief of staff, spoke directly to Nylander's children, hoping to help them fully understand the significance of their father's sacrifice.
"You need to know how proud we are of your father," Schwartz told Tyler, 12; Elisabeth, 9; and Andru, 7, as they stood on stage with their mother, Nylander's widow. "Your dad is an inspiration to me."
The Silver Star is given to service members who show valor in the face of an enemy, Schwartz said, and Nylander's actions the day he died embody the principles of the award.
Schwartz presented the prestigious medal in a ceremony at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base that included former co-workers of the Air Force captain and other airmen as well as the Nylander family. Miriam Nylander described the day as "bittersweet" when she introduced herself to the media before the ceremony.
Nylander, 35, was a meteorologist with D-M's 25th Operational Weather Squadron. On the day of the shooting, he was in a conference room with other Air Force and Afghan personnel when a gunman opened fire.
Nylander evacuated the room, then went into a hallway, where he and another officer fired their pistols at the gunman.
Nylander believed the assailant was incapacitated by his wounds and began helping the injured personnel. But the gunman resumed the attack. Nylander fired at the man again before being shot fatally.
Nylander could have left the building along with the people he guided outside, but he chose to stay and help those in danger, Schwartz said.
"Our nation was blessed with such a brave and generous airman," he said.
Nylander was one of nine Americans killed during the meeting. When he died, he was midway through a yearlong deployment as an adviser to the NATO Air Training Command at Kabul International Airport.
His life, his military service and even the way he died exemplified the values of the Air Force, Schwartz said.
"Nathan Nylander," Schwartz said, "favored humility over glory."
"You need to know how proud we are of your father. Your dad is an inspiration to me."
Gen. Norton A. Schwartz, speaking about Capt. Nathan Nylander, pictured at right