Wednesday, August 6, 2008

COMMENTARY >> A reminder of why we serve

By Lt. Col. Sean Bordenave
53rd Airlift Squadron commander

I have to admit, as Airmen, we sometimes get wrapped up in our daily jobs, and we sometimes forget why we serve. I have a couple of personal stories which happened in my Air Force career that remind me why I serve; hopefully, it will be a reminder for us all.

In 2002, I was deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. My commander was on my case about having a ceremony for my promotion to major. Admittedly, I am not one for a lot of formality, so I really didn’t care much about the ceremony. On the day of my promotion, my crew was on the flying schedule to fly a mission into Pakistan in support of combat operations. After the flight, I decided to have a simple ceremony in the back of the C-130 Herk to appease my commander.

Well, the mission didn’t go quite as expected, and my crew and I ended up in a very austere airfield with a broken aircraft. We became guests of the 101st Airborne Division for the night, waiting for the maintenance recovery team to fix the aircraft.

While preparing to bed down for the night, one of my crew members passed a comment: “So much for your promotion ceremony.” An Army sergeant major from the 101st Airborne Division overheard the comment and said we could still perform the promotion ceremony right here. The sergeant major also said, “Sir, it would be an honor for the 101st to be present at your promotion.” So, with red flashlights out, and the sun rapidly disappearing behind the mountains, an Air Force major, who was an additional crew member and a personal friend, and surrounded by soldiers from the 101st Airborne, we accomplished the promotion ceremony. The non-commissioned officers on my crew pinned the majors oak leaves on my desert flight suit, and I reaffirmed my oath as a commissioned officer in the United States Air Force.

As I reflect on that unique promotion ceremony, I am reminded of why we serve. My promotion ceremony to major reminds me of the Oath of Office. Our nation’s Armed Forces are bonded together by an oath to support and defend our Constitution. On April 1, 2002, during combat operations supporting Operation Enduring Freedom, I re-affirmed my oath with a unit from the 101st Airborne Division present. I was humbled when the sergeant major said; “Sir, it would be an honor for the 101st to be present at your promotion.” We are an all-volunteer military bonded together with a single oath to protect our nation’s freedom. There is no other on earth with that special bond.

The NCOs who pinned on my new rank represent the Airmen we serve for and with. Most of us come into the Armed Forces for much of the same reasons: God, country, apple pie and the good old United States of America. However, I am convinced we stay in the profession of arms for completely different reasons. For me, I enjoy the Airmen that I serve with and for each and every day...the same Airmen that pinned on my rank during my promotion ceremony.

My promotion ceremony to major reminds me of one of our Air Force core values: service before self. Promotion ceremonies are special occasions and an opportunity to celebrate with family. In this particular case, I did not have the opportunity to celebrate with my family. I was far from my wife and four children, but I was doing what I had volunteered to do. Both my family and I are proud of the sacrifices we make. It is a reminder of “service before self.”

My final story is a very simple reminder of why we serve. On my last deployment, I was dressed in my desert camouflage uniform and was walking through Chicago O’Hare International Airport waiting for my next flight to Norfolk, Va.

While I was walking through the airport, this young boy of about seven years old was standing squarely in front me. He looked at me straight in the eye and said, “Thank you for your service.”

Before he walked away, all I could say in response was “You’re welcome.” As he walked away, I could see his mother standing a short distance away with a grateful smile on her face saying the same non-verbal words of “thank you.” Simply put, we serve a very grateful and supportive nation.

So as a reminder, when you get wrapped up in the daily grind of what we sometimes call a job, remember: it is not a job, it is a profession. We have volunteered to serve our nation.

Our commitment is solidified in the Oath of Office we take in our induction to military service and when we reaffirm during special occasions, such as promotion ceremonies and re-enlistments. The Oath of Office is a special bond we share with Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Coast Guardsmen and Airmen that serve this nation.

The Oath is our pledge to support and defend our nation. This commitment sometimes requires personal sacrifices for both us and our families. However, these sacrifices are acknowledged by a very grateful nation, who says, “Thank you for your service.”


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