Air Force Tech. Sgt. Peter Aguilar felt helpless that day in Balad, Iraq, as three rockets streaked across the sky toward his base. Then came relief as the missiles were intercepted and exploded harmlessly overhead.

"I thanked the Lord," said Aguilar, of Levittown, who supervises the loading of cargo planes.

Senior Airman Kyle Spalding had scary moments, too - whenever he had to disarm a roadside bomb.

"We were called on quite regularly," said the native of Gettysburg, Pa., who lives at McGuire Air Force Base in Burlington County.

Now home from Iraq, Aguilar and Spalding have a new mission: to tell their stories during Air Force Week, eight days of events to strengthen public support for members of the service around the world.

The Philadelphia region, where activities get under way tomorrow, Memorial Day, is one of three sites chosen for parades, air expositions, demonstrations, high-tech displays, solemn ceremonies and flyovers.

Similar celebrations will be held Aug. 9-17 in Omaha, Neb., and Nov. 14-21 in Los Angeles. Philadelphia's Air Force Week ends June 2 with an energy forum at Rutgers University-Camden open only to military and civic leaders.

"Our varying missions and capabilities are compelling, but our airmen - their pride, professionalism and can-do spirit - are inspiring," said Col. Balan R. Ayyar, commander of McGuire and the 305th Air Mobility Wing.

Hundreds of Air Force personnel from the area have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, flying missions, monitoring the skies on radar, and fueling and loading planes. Many are home for Air Force Week.

Aguilar, a reservist and Philadelphia postal worker, returned May 13. "As soon as I got back, I said, 'When is the next" deployment?

"It really feels like I save lives," said the 44-year-old airman, who drops supplies to bases so that troops don't have to make dangerous convoy runs.

"I'll tell stories of all my travels from Afghanistan to Iraq," said Aguilar, the married father of a son, 23, and daughter, 22.

He has turned the loading of cargo planes into a science. Each aircraft has its own capacity and must be packed so the contents are secure and properly distributed.

"You're talking about immense weight. Safety is a big issue," said Aguilar, who oversees the loading of the huge C-5 Galaxy planes and others.

"We make sure we watch each other. We're in contact by radio and through hand signals because we can't hear anything when the aircraft is running. We're handling objects that can crush you."

Safety is a big issue with Spalding, too. He's an explosive-ordnance disposal technician with the 305th Civil Engineering Squadron.

"There is a sense of anxiety, heightened alertness every time you drive outside the wire, every time you leave one of the bases," said Spalding, 20.

"You go back to your training," he said. "We're used extensively to conduct operations. I believe we've saved lives."

Spalding mostly uses robots to defuse improvised explosive devices. "You don't want to go down there if you don't have to," he said. "The manual approach is the last resort."

The senior airman was deployed to Iraq in November and returned to McGuire last month. On Tuesday, he will represent the Air Force at the Philadelphia Zoo, where he will demonstrate a robot, a bomb suit, and other tools of his job.

"My role is to get out there and tell stories about the people who are in the Air Force and let the public know what we do, our role in the war," Spalding said. "I'm one of many who are doing their jobs, trying to protect lives and property."

Air Force Week Highlights

For a full schedule, visit

or call 609-754-8336.

Tomorrow

10 a.m to noon:

Bridesburg Memorial Day Parade, 4600 block of Richmond Street. Flyover by a military tanker, plus demonstrations at the Bridesburg Recreation Center by a military dog and an explosive-ordnance robot.

5 to 7 p.m.:

Pregame activities at the Phillies-Rockies game, Citizens Bank Park. Aircraft flyover, explosive-ordnance demonstration, performance by Air Force Blue Aces band, and displays of the Air Force Monster truck, Air Force NASCAR racer, and Air Force Reserve custom jet car.

Tomorrow through Friday

10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.:

The Franklin Institute on the Parkway. Air Force vehicles and equipment plus demonstrations.

Tuesday

11 a.m. to 3 p.m.:

Independence Hall. Speech by Gen. Arthur J. Lichte, Air Mobility Command commander, and a band concert at 11; displays and demonstrations.

Saturday and next Sunday

9 a.m. to 6 p.m.:

McGuire Air Force Base, Burlington County. Air Expo with the Air Force Thunderbirds and a host of advanced aircraft. Performances begin at 11 a.m. For details, go to

.

Contact staff writer Edward Colimore at 856-779-3833 or ecolimore@phillynews.com.