Although the Iranian Hostage Crisis occurred 3 months after I enlisted in the US Air Force, the majority of my military time was spent during “peacetime.”
As I recall, “A State of Preparedness”, was the phrase of the day….every day. I was attached to what was called the Military Airlift Command (MAC). Our overall mission was to move manpower and material, quickly, to any place in world. Our mission at my base in Southern California was to supply all the bases in the Pacific Rim.
My specific job was to maintain the hydraulic systems on our C-141A/B Starlifter cargo aircraft along with eighteen T-39 Sabreliner corporate-sized jets. I loved my job and did it well. My supervisor put me on the tougher jobs that needed a higher level of attention and jobs that needed accurate and quick turnarounds. But actually, it seemed to be just that, a job. With some exceptions during specific training periods performing 12 hour shifts, I went to “work” at 0730 and was off at 1630. Beyond that, I was on my personal time for the most part. I played softball on the squadron team and an off-base team. I played football on the squadron team and the base all-star team. We took a trip to Nellis Air Force Base, Las Vegas and won an inter-service league championship one year. I played the next year in the same tournament at the Marine base in Barstow, CA. I also became quite skilled at shooting pool and developed a keen ability to shoot “one-handed,” since a friend and retired MSgt we shot with had a paralyzed arm and was a very skilled one-handed pool player.
My point here is, although I served in the U.S. military and was ready if needed in a conflict, I never was really involved in the life or death struggle that our troops are experiencing today and our wartime veterans have experienced in the past. I am a history buff and have read about the often gruesome difficulties our troops have faced in the first Gulf War in 1991 through today. I reflect back to the Vietnam War, Korean War, WWII and WWI and hold these American men and women in extremely high honor. They have all experienced unimaginable events while fighting for our country and performing heroically.
Many Americans sit here in the relative safety of our homeland and argue over truly trivial things in the name of “political correctness” or some such reason. Meanwhile active-duty soldiers sit in a hole in the desert heat halfway around the world in unfamiliar settings, bullets flying above them and bombs exploding around them, wondering if the next bullet or bomb will take their life. Or perhaps, take the soldier’s life beside them and themselves be spared.
All have their individual reasons for volunteering to join the military ranks, but they understand that at any given time, the discipline, the training, the courage within them may be called upon to perform their duties, to the death if needed, for the greater good of the squad, the group, the country. A veteran has learned that it is not about the individual, but rather, the whole. The team is paramount, and when circumstances dictate, one may be called upon to sacrifice his or her life for the sustainability of the larger team – the USA. This is why the U.S. flag to a veteran is not just another piece of cloth, but a symbol…one worth dying for, and too, one worth living for. When viewed in this light, one can understand why a veteran may get upset when the flag is handled in a less-than-honorable manner.
It’s not a football game, a basketball game or baseball game. And as much as I love all of these sports, including many of the “stars” of the game, the true stars, the true heroes, are the men and women who are now wearing and have worn the uniforms of the U.S. military. And as many Americans may want to say…”I have the right to…..blah, blah, blah….Our veterans literally paid for that right over and over with their limbs, their lives, and many times, their sanity.
Yes, I did wear the U.S. Air Force uniform for four years and I’ve been told it doesn’t matter that my service was during peacetime, but that I did serve. However I still have a hard time in my mind trying to measure up to the wartime veteran. That experience deserves our humble respect. It has mine.
We should be honoring active-duty and veterans not only on Veterans Day, but every day.