On June 2005, I was outside my house when my 22-year-old son returned home with some astonishing news. “Dad, I’m going into the Air Force,” he said with casual ease. I said, “really”? THE United States Air Force? The Air Force with all of those cool Fighter Jets? His reply with a slight smirk on his face; yeah, that one. Maybe even more incredible was that he was planning to be a jet propulsion mechanic. When I heard him say “propulsion” I knew he had spent some serious time at the recruiting office.
Having barely ever picked up a wrench for a car let alone a multi-million dollar military jet engine, his choice really surprised me. And before I could ask him, “yes I aced my ASVAB for that career field." My daughter and I could not have been prouder standing and swelling at Lackland Air Force Base at his Basic Military Training graduation. And nothing was better, according to my son than graduating and leaving his Training Instructor Sargent F. behind. Sargent F was there to greet my daughter and me up close and personal in the barracks. He stared me down and gave what seemed to be a very firm non-com command. “WELL??” “WELL?” I said I didn’t recognize my son sir. (I felt it was in my best interest to call him sir) He instantly turned into a junkie Jack O’ Lantern with a grin from ear to ear. That was it. No more communication from the Sargent, just pure chewing satisfaction. It turns out that Sargent F has just returned from his third deployment in Iraq with special forces. My son and all his new brothers were so glad that the Sargent decided to become a Training instructor just in time to transform them into Airman.
The graduation was grand, and we could see the tradition, the magnitude and the pure dedication from every Airman on the field. From the retiring two-star general who was the featured speaker to every new Airman. The Training Instructors gave the commands so loudly and authoritatively that it was like we were actually standing in their squad. The retiring general’s speech was a very inspirational one. He ended with what he knew everyone on the field wanted to hear; “and as I look around today I can see that each and every one of you will continue to keep the United States Air Force the world’s greatest …..(wait for it) Air Power”. The place went nuts. It was the expression everyone knew was coming, and the general did not disappoint. The F-22 fighter jet flyover seconds after the conclusion did not detract from the moment either.
It was this exact moment that I realized just how personal my son’s service would be for my family and me. This gave me a renewed appreciation for all veterans and especially for the people in my family who served. My son would now add his name to those who served. My father, a United States Army Korean War Veteran. His father a 27 year United States Marine Corp. veteran. My uncle Jimmy a 21 year United States Air Force veteran. My uncle Norman, who was in the Batten Death March in the United States Army. Uncle Roland, a United States Army veteran who served in the Korean War. My uncle Henry, who died at Normandy while serving in the United States Navy. My father-in-law, a United States Navy World War II veteran. My cousin Butch, who passed from agent orange exposure after serving in the United States Army 82nd Airborne, deployed to Viet Nam. Uncle Leonard, a 22 year United States Navy veteran who recently found his eternal resting place with a United States Navy burial at sea.
I can only hope that our “Show Our Troops A Sign” campaign reminds us about the very personal story behind each and every United States military member’s service. Because every American needs to know that freedom isn’t free. It comes at the cost of our all-volunteer United States Armed Forces. Collectively, the greatest fighting force the world has ever known. Powered by the greatest of Americans; those who serve willingly and with honor.
U.S. Signs and Safety