RAF MILDENHALL, England — An airman attacked on social media for appearing to take a knee in protest during a Remembrance Day service near the Mildenhall War Memorial on Sunday morning was just feeling faint, Air Force officials said.
The airman first class from RAF Mildenhall, while participating in a ceremony detail in dress uniform, stood and saluted during the U.S. and British national anthems, according to photos contributed to Stars and Stripes. He stepped backward out of the formation and fell to a knee when the music to reveille began playing.
Feeling faint after locking the knees during formation “can be a common occurrence for airmen participating in these types of events and at no time did this airman display or intend any disrespect to either the U.S. or U.K. servicemembers the event was honoring,” the base said in a statement on Monday.
The airman’s name is being withheld because of threats he has received and concerns about his safety, the base said.
Joy Bush, a British civilian, said she watched it happen and was confused by why anyone would leave a formation.
A friend of the airman, possibly trying to be humorous, told Bush that he was mimicking football player Colin Kaepernick’s protest movement against police brutality.
I waited till the music had finished and went around to the area,” Bush told Stars and Stripes. “His friend was standing behind him and at this point he was sitting on a small wall. I asked if he was ill or if he took a knee in protest and his friend clearly said he took a knee in protest.
“If his friend was joking, then he has opened a can of worms for the guy that took a knee,” she said.
Soon after the event, a photo of the airman taking a knee was shared on the Facebook Traditional British Group. The site also includes multiple posts attacking immigration, left-wing politics, the media and the influence of minority groups.
The photo was “sent in by a page reader,” according to the site, and was later posted in other Facebook groups and the popular site Reddit.
After 20 hours, the initial Facebook post received almost 700 shares and 400 comments. Some called for punishment against the airman and a few commenters threatened his safety.
A screenshot posted of a comment by someone identified on Facebook as a crew chief at Mildenhall stated that the airman, whom he said he worked with, kneeled because he was about to pass out.
Other users argued that he had locked his knees and stepped out so he wouldn’t collapse. According to the formation leader, that is what happened.
“It can happen that airmen begin to feel unwell or faint during a formation, so I briefed them all ahead of time that they should step out and take a seat for their own safety if they began to feel at all lightheaded, which is exactly what happened in this particular case,” said Maj. Michael Opich, maintenance operations flight commander for the 100th Maintenance Group. “I am glad that he was able to avoid any potential injury.”
Since the formation wasn’t part of a parade, the airmen had to stand at attention for the duration of the ceremony.
“Locking your knees in conjunction with prolonged standing can trigger vasovagal syncope,” according to a statement from the 48th Medical Group at RAF Lakenheath. “The trigger causes a neural reflex which can lower your heart rate and cause your blood pressure to drop suddenly.
“This sudden change in blood pressure can result in reduced blood flow to the brain causing you to briefly lose consciousness.”
Remembrance Day is a memorial day observed in Commonwealth of Nations member states since the end of the World War I to honor servicemembers who died in the line of duty.