*Note* – this story originally appeared in the April 2017 issue of Citizen Airman Magazine
A Tiger’s Tale: To Salute or not salute
Citizen Airman/Apr. 2017 — There are many times in the military when service members are faced with making a quick decision about whether or not to render a salute. But very rarely does someone find himself in a situation where he is being coined by a major command commander while dressed in an orange and white tiger outfit during a nationally televised football game and having to answer the question, “Do I salute?”
But that’s exactly the extremely unusual situation Senior Airman Quincy Wheaton, a knowledge operations management Airman with the 433rd Airlift Wing, found himself in while prowling the sidelines of the Georgia Dome during the Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl Dec. 17.
Wheaton is a senior at Grambling State University, whose football team was facing off against North Carolina Central in the bowl game. During the fall, he suited up as Grambling’s mascot Eddie the Tiger, named after Eddie Robinson, the school’s legendary football coach.
“I met Generals Miller and Harris (Lt. Gen. Maryanne Miller, Air Force Reserve Command commander; and Lt. Gen. Stayce Harris, assistant vice chief of staff and director of the Air Staff, Headquarters U.S. Air Force, Washington, D.C.) while they were walking on Grambling’s sideline,” Wheaton said. “I just remember seeing the stars on their shoulders, showing off such high rank, and I thought to myself, ‘I have to go meet them and shake their hands.’”
Before actually approaching the generals, Wheaton knew he had to prowl gently and not attack.
“I definitely didn’t want to startle them or catch them off guard by having a big orange and white tiger just walking up to them,” he said. “That’s one downside to being a mascot. You never know how people may react toward you or their own personal feelings toward mascots. It’s not always so pretty.”
Wheaton cautiously approached the generals and Chief Master Sgt. Ericka Kelly, AFRC command chief, so as not to startle them, introduced himself and stated he was a Reservist at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas. He explained the reason he was in a Tiger suit and that he is currently a student at GSU.
“They are the highest-ranking individuals in the Air Force who I’ve ever personally met, so the whole ordeal was truly an honor,” Wheaton said. “I’m sure their reactions to having a conversation with a big orange tiger were still quite funny. They were so nice and seemed happy to meet me.”
Soon after meeting the trio, Wheaton was faced with the dilemma of whether or not to salute.
“Getting coined while in the tiger suit was a surreal experience,” he said. “I was completely shocked that she (Miller) even coined me.”
For Wheaton, having the opportunity to meet such high-ranking officials and getting coined, while wearing his other “uniform” at GSU’s biggest game of the year, caused him to have a lot of emotions.
“I believe I was in so much shock, I honestly forgot to salute,” he said. “I thought about it afterwards: ‘Should I have saluted? Would I look silly saluting her in a tiger suit?’ I know you’re supposed to, especially because it was an officer. That all ran through my mind in the brief moment of speaking with them.”
With Grambling pulling off an exciting 10-9 victory in the waning moments of the game to take home the Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl Championship, securing the Historically Black Colleges and Universities National Championship, it was a big day all around for Wheaton. And to top things off, he got to perform for only the second time with the World Famed Grambling State University Tiger Marching Band during halftime in front of family, friends and a national television audience. And, of course, there was that thing about getting coined in a tiger outfit.
“To get my first coin was something, but to get it from the commander of AFRC, that’s amazing,” Wheaton said. “That’s something worth bragging about.”