Monday, November 12, 2012

My Thoughts on Veterans' Day 2012

I just returned from a very nice ceremony at my high school Alma Mater, planned and hosted by one of my oldest friend's son. He did a wonderful job of gathering and celebrating the service of a number of veterans and I was very pleased to be a part of the celebration. As I considered this event, I put down some thoughts about my own service. You are welcome to read on and get glimpse of my perspective.

On November 22, 1985—or as they say in the Air Force, 22 November 1985—I took an oath of office that went something like this:
Having been appointed a Second Lieutenant in the United States Air Force, I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the office upon which I am about to enter. So help me God.

I served actively for seven years and as a member of the Individual Ready Reserve for eight more and enjoy to this day a great sense of accomplishment and pride at having served alongside so many brave, dedicated, and selfless people.

For me, the idea of military service came at a young age. Although I was not a Boy Scout, I appreciated the role that organization served in developing the ideas that are the seeds of good citizenship. My father served in the USAF and we grew up hearing stories and viewing his slides of the days in the Arctic, where they put the “Cold” in the Cold War. His father served in the Royal Navy and his uncle was an RAF Fighter Pilot in the “Big War.” I consider my uncle Dave one of the heros of my youth due in part to his service in the Navy and the stories he told me as a little boy. He was a great storyteller. Another direct influence was my mother’s brother. He served in the Navy during the Vietnam War aboard a ship. My maternal grandfather also served in the Navy along with another uncle and two of my cousins. My cousin achieved the highest enlisted rank in the Navy and retired several years ago. He was stationed in Italy when I was stationed in Sicily—a comforting coincidence. My first personal taste of military life came at American Legion Boys’ State at the US Naval Academy.

I sought appointment to the Naval Academy and Air Force Academy while in high school and was nominated to both, although I did not receive an appointment to either. This was a disappointment at the time, but it later became clear that my wandering path to commissioning was more formative for the work that I ended up doing and the people that I worked with in maintenance. While at college, I toyed with the idea of joining the Marine Corps through the Platoon Leaders Course (PLC) program. I even went so far as to take the tests and was accepted. But it didn’t fit my life-plan at the time and I passed on the opportunity. I’m not sure if I would have made a good Marine or not—I consider that thought now and then.

After graduating college at a time that was, until recently, considered one of the worst economic times in our country, I found it difficult to get a good career start. I had a job working in my desired field of design that didn’t pay much, and I made pretty good money driving a uniform truck (not my life’s work). I filled in working construction, auto maintenance, and dry wall finishing—which were good jobs, but not fulfilling at the time.

It was my father that suggested that I should consider looking into a commissioning program in the Air Force for people that already had a degree. So off to the Trolley Square Recruiting office I went. It turned out that there was just such a program that was periodically activated called Officer’s Training School. As a devoté of military movies, I had seen “An Officer and A Gentleman,” and had an idea of what this might be. The actual experience was much more mundane than the movie, but interesting none the less.

After 90 training days in the heat of a Texas summer and fall, I stood in front of my wife, my parents, my brother, and a crowd of about 30 people and recited the oath I mentioned previously. Oh, we had a big parade and a mock pinning for show, but the actual commissioning was very quiet and reserved.

My military experience was one that took me from the far north of New York at Plattsburgh AFB, where my second daughter was born, to the exotic Mediterranean island of Sicily—from the heat of San Antonio and Medina Annex of Lackland AFB to sunny Florida and Homestead AFB. I traveled extensively to California, Colorado, Missouri, Alabama, and many other locations across the country as well as through Europe by train and plane. I was trained as a Munitions Supply Officer, a Munitions and Aircraft Maintenance Officer, and a Maintenance Staff Officer, with special training in explosive safety and aircraft mishap investigation.

Military life is especially hard on family life. When we met with the recruiter, he led us to believe several things that proved to not only be untrue, but opposite the truth I wanted to be a pilot, but the recruiter said families couldn’t attend the two years of training. I think he had other jobs he wanted to fill. He described facilities that we never found in the entire time I served and were far from those found on one of the oldest bases in the country and the Air Force. He said that it was unlikely that I would spend long periods of time away from the family. In the first two years I was away for about 70% of the time. No overseas in the first tour—I arrived in Sicily for my remote assignment just before Christmas almost exactly two years after commissioning. But we survived and had some great experiences anyway.

But there were good things for the family as well. We lived in south Florida for a couple of years where we were able to access things for the girls that we would have been hard-pressed to provide otherwise. I was able to set aside money to get my Masters degree, which I got after separating from the service at Dover Air Force Base. I was a part of several significant world history events and didn’t get hurt or killed. And I learned a great deal about the diverse nature of people working with and for people of all genders, races, nationalities, religions, ideologies, and perspectives. But most of all, I get to be counted among that special group of people who served in the military.

Fortunately for me, my time of service and beyond fell in a time when the military members are held in high regard. Regardless of people’s perspective on the role of the US military in the world, the troops are valued for their sacrifice and dedication. Hopefully, that perspective will continue for all time. To confuse the ideology of the mission with those pressed to serve is just wrong.

I took the oath twice—once as a newly minted officer, and once upon promotion to Captain. I looked up the specific wording to make sure that I got it right as my memory for such things is good, but clouded by years. At 52 years old, I hold a much different perspective on the nature of service in the military than that of that 25-year-old Lieutenant. I occasionally counsel players that I coach or young people that I know who are considering military service. For the right people, I think it is a great opportunity to put into action your responsibility as a citizen. I try to make sure that they understand the commitment and expectations while knowing the opportunities and challenges that accompany service in uniform. Not everyone is cut out to do the job or live the life and there are other equally valuable ways to serve your fellow man in other organizations or vocations.

John 15:13 says in general, “no greater love has a person than to lay down his life for his friends.” Sometimes literally, sometimes metaphorically, this is at the root of why so many people choose to serve in the military. Patriots to the core beliefs at the heart of our nation, these people meet the responsibilities and costs of freedom with their very existence.

At each of the national holidays that cause reflection on the military, I remember fondly my service, the people I worked with, and the accomplishments we had at that time. I am so proud to be able to recommend the service to young people and watch them as they succeed and become exceptional citizens.

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