"...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

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Reflections & Gratitude

Recently an enlisted troop wrote a letter to the Air Force Times, Why I Won't Re-enlist.  It kicked off some discussion, and it was well written and valuable.  A retired Command CMSgt then wrote an article in response to the Air Force Times, Why He Can't Re-enlist.  That kicked off further discussion.  The Chief's article had some merit to it, but took some real liberties in its negative characterization of the first writer in order to make its points.  Straw man or not, he did bring up a good point about service and benefits.  Got me thinking about the ability to serve, and collecting benefits, and I realized how incredibly fortunate I have been in my career on both accounts.

Today as I was flying 300 miles an hour across a sea of cotton ball clouds that extended as far as the eye could see, I thought to myself, "Damn, life is good."  I know that's not the case for every airman who serves, and I certainly know it hasn't always been rainbows and gummy bears even for me.  I bear the scars to prove it.  But like any hard fought and survived episode, even the scars are highly rewarding.  They are scars of service and they come with some pretty awesome bar stories.  Real service is very rewarding, but it often comes with a price.

After I landed earlier today from my sortie, I started to ponder how wonderful life is for me even after eighteen years in the military.  It's still damn fun!  Last week I flew a low level over some terrain and then popped into an airfield where I screamed up initial in my aircraft, broke at the approach end of the runway, threw out the speed brake, gear down, flaps, and made a nice tight tactical three hundred and sixty degree turn to a beautiful touch and go.  Then off I went, after no doubt making some civilian kids and pilots at the airfield think, "cool!"  My career has mostly been fun and rewarding.  There is only one assignment I have had that suffered from horrible leadership, that wasn't salvaged by jumping in a flying machine.  Even that assignment was highly rewarding, though, because I took it upon myself to serve.  Scars.  Bar stories.

When I look back upon my entire life, the reality is that the Air Force has been amazing to me from day one.  The taxpayer has been generous to me.  I've had more than my share of fist fights and a few knife fights, but it has been a glorious ride all the same.  I am reminded of my old man voicing gratitude for everything the military had provided him; the opportunity to work hard and be rewarded for it.  But his hard work didn't benefit him alone, it also benefited me.  As a kid I received a world class real-life education as a dependent, lived around the world, and I had the benefit of an education that many kids aren't fortunate enough to get.  I also had the benefit of role models as I interacted with the military people in my world.  Our attitudes don't just shape those around us, they also shape the next generation of potential airmen.

That is something for us all to remember, regardless of where we are at in this organization, and regardless of what we think about the importance or insanity of mustache regulations.

The Air Force later funded much of a quality college education and then, of course, allowed me to commission and to fly phenomenal aircraft.  It allowed me to achieve a dream, and did so while paying me well.  I was able to visit many countries, and I was even able to kill quite a few who needed killing while visiting some of them.  And I was able to save American lives.  All very rewarding work.  I got to fly a variety of aircraft from nimble jets with ejection seats, to larger crew aircraft made for globe hopping.

The Air Force also introduced me to my wife, the most exceptional person I have ever met.  When I say that, please note that I don't mean that in the typical "my wife is so amazing" way most people say it.  I mean that she is truly amazing.  After ten years of marriage we have shared combat together overseas, and we have shared other battles for America here at home.  And we both continue to serve while wearing the Air Force uniform.

But there are also the benefits, including those the Chief asserts the first article writer was solely interested in.  The Air Force has been great in that arena, too, but of course as an officer I am much better paid than most of our enlisted folks.  The Air Force has allowed me to live cheaply, and comfortably, and to invest wisely.  Now, with two years left before collecting a generous pension for life, and with no debt, and with multiple paid off properties and other assets, my wife and and I get to spend those final two years on the beaches of Florida where we first met.  Me spending my days flying bad ass machines over the beach, and her working on her high powered corporate litigation.

The chance to serve, and the benefits received, have been very rewarding.  And now we are so very close to realizing an incredible life that most in this world will sadly never get to experience.

All made possible by the taxpayer funded United States Air Force.

But, in order to ensure our service continues to invoke such positive memories and gratitude from its airmen, we must ensure that it does not fail as an institution, and we must ensure that our leadership cares about service and people.  Mission and people. All of us in the trenches must call the baby ugly and take service oriented risks that may put our careers on the line, just as combat requires we put our lives on the line.  Service is important.  But if those below don't see those above actually serving... there is little chance they will do anything but look out for themselves and cast service aside.

Or perhaps they will serve anyway, despite those from above.  That causes friction.  It causes scarring.  Scars are evidence of service.

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