SOUTHWEST ASIA –
Growing up in rural Minnesota, a career in the military was far from my mind.
The high school had no junior ROTC, there were no local colleges with active ROTC programs, the nearest recruiter was an hour away and the nearest guard unit was at least twice that. But my dad received a Veterans of Foreign Wars , magazine monthly and he would turn immediately to the final pages looking intently for a reunion of his Navy Seabee unit. He rarely spoke about the three years he spent in the military except to say it was the best group of people he'd ever known. I wondered what exactly was going through his mind as we visited the traveling Vietnam Veterans' Memorial when he was moved to tears but he couldn't really explain it.
Two years ago I visited the actual Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C., on Veterans Day and, with eight years active duty under my belt, "The Wall" took on a whole new meaning. It's a long walk, 500 feet, each step taking you past the names of hundreds of America's servicemen and women who gave their lives in that war. Despite the crowds on that day, I'll never forget one man carrying an oversized American flag running his hand along the length of the wall.
Fast forward to today and I find myself spending Veterans Day in Southwest Asia. After more than two months in the area of responsibility traveling back and forth between two busy air bases, one thing is clear to me: our Airmen get it.
Our Airmen understand sacrifice. Our Airmen understand mission. Our Airmen understand teamwork, integrity, perseverance and strength. The individuals we live and work with on a daily basis are motivated to do their jobs and to make things better for themselves and the larger mission. They take their jobs seriously and, because of it, make amazing things happen. Our Airmen understand that they've been asked to make a difference and they're doing it consistently.
With all due respect to veterans of America's previous wars and Tom Brokaw, today's servicemen and women are staking a claim as the new "greatest generation." In fact there are many viable comparisons with the storied World War II and Korean War-era service members. Our generation has been at war every day since Jan. 16, 1991. The greatest generation was at war for 9 of 13 years between 1941 and 1953. Both generations have seen unprovoked attacks against our citizens on our soil. Both generations saw America rally around the attacks and take the fight to the enemy. Both generations have thousands of stories of patriotism and heroism.
I'm convinced only a veteran can understand the draw a Seabee reunion would have for my dad, or what he meant about "the best people he ever knew," or the unexplainable feelings he and the unknown man had at "The Wall." We all understand; every one of us. It's alright that we can't explain it; it's a warrior's secret. I'm just thankful we have an amazing generation of Airmen that continue volunteering to find out for themselves. On this Veterans Day, I want to thank you for your sacrifices and the difference you're making. It's an honor to serve with you.