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A ceremony in the clouds

Flowery Branch Marine promoted in helicopter flying above Afghanistan

POSTED: June 3, 2012 1:00 a.m.

Cpl. Christofer P. Baines may be in a career his family never expected, but that hasn’t kept him from excelling with flying colors.

The 2009 Flowery Branch High School graduate turned U.S. Marine was recently promoted from lance corporal to corporal in a very unique ceremony — conducted hundreds of feet in the air over Kabul, Afghanistan in a Sikorsky S-92 helicopter.

When Baines, a broadcaster with the American Forces Network in Afghanistan, was informed of his impending promotion, he asked U.S. Army Lt. Col. Jeffrey B. Henderson of Macon to be the officiating officer.

Baines’ request was unusual; ordinarily, an administrative supervising officer or someone in Baines’ chain of command would conduct the ceremony.

“I’ve always seen him lead from the front and display a concern for troop welfare,” Baines said. “He even helped support (the network) in getting technicians out to numerous forward operating bases around Afghanistan, ensuring the troops get some entertainment to help them unwind from a hard day in the field.”

Since it was his first time promoting a Marine, the Army officer wanted to do it in style, which is where the helicopter came in.

“I can honestly say that to my knowledge this was a first for several reasons,” Henderson said. “It was the first time I have promoted a Marine and it was the first time a Marine was promoted in an aircraft over Kabul.”

It was a way for Henderson, who was in charge of helicopter assets in the Afghanistan theater of operations, to acknowledge the hard work of Baines and his communications peers.

“The (network) team members are truly unsung heroes in this fight,” Henderson said.

“I thought this was a fitting way to say ‘thank you’ to the entire team by promoting one of their hardworking Marines aboard one of the aircraft that also supports the fight here.”

Although he was trained in still photography, Baines picked up new skills with the Armed Forces Network once he deployed to Afghanistan.

“He rapidly adapted and became one of our workhorse videographers,” said Air Force Master Sgt. John K. Cronin III, the station commander.

“He traveled throughout Afghanistan covering each branch of service as they conducted operations under the guidance of Operation Enduring Freedom,” Cronin said. “He was selected as the Defense Video & Imagery Distribution System performer of the month after just three months in theater.”

His career choice was a surprise to his father.

“I thought he’d be a gunsmith since he was always interested in building guns,” said Neal Baines, a Hall County resident.

“Then when he was in the 10th grade, he started talking about joining the military.

“After talking with (a recruiter), he decided in the 11th grade that the Marine Corps was the way to go.”
When Henderson told Cpl. Baines what he had planned for the ceremony, the latter was overcome with excitement and anticipation.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Baines said. “When I asked if he would be the officiating officer, I did so because I looked up to him as a leader and a great man.

“I didn’t expect such a unique and exciting opportunity.”

Baines and four other AFN team members took off from Bagram Airfield and then flew to New Kabul Compound, where they picked up Henderson. Once airborne, Henderson promoted Baines from lance corporal to corporal.

“All I can really say is that I’m beyond honored and in awe of how epic my promotion was,” Baines said. “To top it off, I was promoted not only by an officer I look up to, but I was promoted by a fellow Georgian.”

“Cpl. Baines will always have a place in my heart,” Henderson said. “During this deployment (he’s) remained a true professional and has impressed me since I met him.”

Neal Baines says his son’s accomplishments have made him see him in a whole new light.

“He’s turned out to be really good at it,” Neal Baines said. “When I read some of his stories, it kind of surprised me at how good they were. He’s really impressed me.”

Although he has since completed his tour of duty and returned to Fort Meade in Maryland, Baines won’t be forgetting his high-flying promotion anytime soon.

“(That) day will always be a source of motivation for me,” he says.

U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. John K. Cronin contributed to this article.


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