"...do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic..."

"For the good of the Air Force, for the good of the armed services and for the good of our country, I urge you to reject convention and careerism..."
- Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Maxwell AFB, April 21, 2008

"You will need to challenge conventional wisdom and call things like you see them to subordinates and superiors alike."
- Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, United States Air Force Academy, March 4, 2011

Friday, November 11, 2011

Reflecting on Veterans Day

Today is Veterans Day. Many thanks will be passed to those who have served their nation in uniform, and offered to those who currently wear the uniform. Citizens who pay our bills and feed our families will be compelled to present their gratitude to us. Some will do so out of sincerity, and others out of a sense of obligation. Men will offer up reasons why they weren't able to serve, perhaps wrestling with some feeling of guilt, and still many others will tell us of a son or a daughter or a sibling who serves. Veterans Day is an emotional day for all involved.

Veterans Day provides an opportunity for those of us currently serving, to look to those who came before us, and to ask ourselves if we are meeting the standard of service they set. The old lady in the line at the local Wendy's doesn't thank us because she knows what we have done, or how we have conducted ourselves. She thanks us for the ideal we represent, and the character and conduct she pays for each and every year the tax bill rolls around. I would suggest that we need to make sure we spend today, not complaining about thanks we didn't receive, but reflecting upon whether or not we truly deserve it.

I look to the greater generations who served before us, and I am not sure I can honestly say I deserve such thanks. I didn't spend a cold winter under Washington fighting redcoats, I didn't participate in trench warfare in a World War, I didn't fly helicopters over the dangerous jungles of Vietnam. While war will always remain ugly, and while I did ensure I would be in the fight after September 11th, still I can't say that I have measured up with my contributions. The reality of our technology today is that most of us who currently serve - certainly not all but most - have not had to measure up to the standard of sacrifice set by those before us. We should remember that as we accept the thanks of a grateful nation today. We should be humbled.

But it's not just about logging time in a combat zone. It's about our conduct back home. We should ask ourselves if we have conducted ourselves for the good of the citizen who pays us, or for the good of our own finances and convenience. Do we serve because we truly love the principles of this nation, and because we want to defend the lamp on the hill, or did we sign up for a stable job and benefits? Are we willing to do the right thing for our country at our own personal expense, or do we labor to climb a ladder in order to satisfy our own pride through increased rank and power? Do we duck doing the right thing for the citizenry and rationalize our cowardice with the mantra of picking our battles, or do we take a stand for this country and let the chips fall where they may? Do we truly serve America, or do we really just serve ourselves?

The old lady in line doesn't thank us for serving ourselves. I hope others will join me this day, to reflect on the emotional thanks she offers up to us, and to ensure that from this day forward, we conduct ourselves so that we truly deserve it.

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