Sunday, November 13, 2005

What Veteran's day means to me

What Veteran’s day means to me.

I posted my daughter’s feelings on soldiers and the military. Now it’s my turn.

When I look at my military service, I admit I can be less then impressed. I was stationed at one base, Travis AFB CA, for 12 ½ years, and I never went overseas. I left my base 4 times: Once to an overnight training exercise about 100 miles away; Once to repair an aircraft in Santa Ana; once to work on a training exercise for about a week in Monterey and once to attend a leadership course in San Bernardino-all still within the state of California.

While there I worked in a repair shop for several years, did admin for a few more. Then I worked the flightline for a few years then finished my time in a repair dock. I worked on C-5 and C-141 aircraft. In one job, all I did was change tires. Not amazing, unless you count large as impressive: the tires on a C-5 are 49 inches tall, and weigh over 250 pounds.

While active duty, I invariably mopped endless floors, scrubbed countless latrines and even had to pull the horrible duty of running the coffee/snack bar. All very hush hush and dangerous, huh? We painted shops, buffed floors, painted lines on floors and even built our own offices.

But in reality, I did work in hazardous environments. I worked with complex aircraft systems that required years of training. Live aircraft have many hazards, the least of which is fuel, liquid oxygen and nitrogen, high voltage systems and high pressure hydraulic systems.

While stationed at Travis I saw an aircraft blow up. Literally. The crew working made a mistake and BOOM!. I also saw one land without its gear and another one shear a wing off.

I was a member of the Base Crash Response Team, as well as a member of the Disaster Preparedness Support Team. During Desert Storm, I gave aircrew briefings to crews flying to Saudi Arabia concerning Chemical threats.

Yes, he really did have them.

So I guess it was a mixed bag of mundane, strenuous, dangerous and intense.

And all the while I was a volunteer. I had chosen to enter the Air Force at age 20. Why though bears examination. You see, people enlist for a variety of reasons: Some for College Tuition, some for training (doctors and pilots especially) and some for patriotism.

I enlisted because I was bored. I was working at a grocery store, and decided I wasn’t going anywhere. So went somewhere.

Extreme you say? Perhaps. I looked at my alternatives and decided to take the USAF on. I think though I may not have gone in for the best reasons, in the end it was a valuable experience.

I learned a lot of things. I learned about teamwork. I learned about responsibility. I learned about leadership. I learned about trust. I learned about honor. And I learned about betrayal. I learned a lifetime of experiences in the form of diverse working environments and the school of hard knocks.

Mostly, I learned about work ethics. I learned that you can take pride in the smallest most mundane job if you approach it from an attitude of trying to do it your best. Those lessons would not truly sink in for many years after I left, but they were ingrained.

I learned about priorities. I learned that the military means what it says when it tells its recruits “the needs of the Service and the Country come first.” I learned that the military can be a very harsh master, in terms of making a person sacrifice family, friends and even themselves.

Now, I sit and watch people continue to serve, for they, unlike me, face a much different set of circumstances. I faced a cold war, and vague threats. They serve with the news buzzing with casualty reports from Iraq. They serve knowing the likelihood of their being called to go there. They serve with the possibility of being a casualty. And yet they still serve.

I regard anyone who has served, past of present, enlistee or draftee, as worthy of my and the country’s respect, but I must regard this new generation of warrior with a particular awe. They face something I only saw glimpses of.

And still they choose to serve.
That's what Veteran's Day means to me: Remembering those who served, and who still serve and what that means.