On her way out of the Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center after her shift, Judy Opdenhoff, a registered nurse, stopped to take in the air demonstration over the facility on Tuesday and was honored by what she saw.

“I think it’s great that they respect us so much to do that,” Opdenhoff said.

Just before 1 p.m., a KC-135 Stratotanker and EC-130j Commando Solo aircraft flown by airmen with the 171st Air Refueling Wing and 193rd Special Operations Wing of the Pennsylvania Air National Guard passed over the hospital to honor those working within.

“I think it’s amazing,” Opdenhoff said. “We should be the ones honoring them.” 

The staff at the hospital was abuzz with conversation about the scheduled event, she explained, from coworkers to her supervisor, who encouraged anyone with a free minute to go outside and watch the flyover.

This flyover was part of Operation American Resolve, a nationwide salute to those on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The aircraft started in Pittsburgh, where the 171st Wing is out of and traveled to Johnstown before making their way to Harrisburg, the home base of the 193rd Wing.

Conemaugh East Hills and the Conemaugh Medical Park were also featured on the flight path.

Ibrahim Sbeitan, a doctor at Conemaugh, said he had no expectation of being honored.

“It was very emotional, patriotic and I’m appreciative,” he said.

Michelle Emerson, Barb Yogus and Michelle Lauer walked up to the emergency room drop off area to get a better view.

The women were in agreement that a flyover was an unexpected treat.

Lauer, a physical therapist with the hospital, said a display such as this usually doesn’t happen in “little old Johnstown.”

The trio agreed that it was a humbling and welcome surprise to be included on the flight path.

Yogus, an occupational therapist assistant, added that sometimes health care workers don’t feel as though they get any recognition, so being honored on a scale such as this is great.

The sidewalks of Franklin and Osborne streets weren’t just filled with hospital employees, though.

Nearby residents, including Andrea Horbam, who lives in Valley Pike Manor, gathered to witness the event.

Horbam took up a spot under the overhang of the First Commonwealth Bank to watch the aircraft go by.

She had seen the event on the news and said her and her sister, Maryann Savering, had discussed their excitement for it.

“It’s a good thing to show support,” Horbam said.

She planned on getting some photos of the flyover if she could. 

Shawn Monk, the Public Affairs Operational Chief with the 171st Wing, said it was an honor to be able to provide the flyover for the health care workers.

“This was our opportunity to say ‘Thank you’ to these medical workers and health care staff who are on the front lines fighting this pandemic,” Monk said.

He explained that Operation American Resolve was initially a U.S. Air Force effort and when members of the Pennsylvania Air National Guard found out they could participate as well, they jumped on board.

Monk described it as “much deserved recognition” for those in the medical field. 

Joshua Byers is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter @Journo_Josh.

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