McLaughlin Air National Guard Base, Charleston, W.Va. --
Have you ever asked yourself the question, “Why did I join the military?” Most of us would say we were offered the GI bill, tuition, bonuses, kickers, and even rank as an incentive to join the military. To most, this sounds really good, and so we join to pay for our education, make money, and to receive all of the great benefits.
In 1984, I joined the military to help pay for my college education. I was young and my family didn’t have much money to help me through school, so I knew I had to find a way to pay for my college education on my own. When I learned the WV Air National Guard would not only pay me, but also offer monthly benefits for going to college, I knew that this is what I wanted to do. At the time I didn’t realize what I was really getting myself into, I just knew I was going to receive a monthly drill check, VA benefits, and they would pay back my college loans.
During my first enlistment I began traveling and experiencing the different places, cultures, and food from all over the world; this quickly became my passion. Here I was a young man in college trying to get a degree in teaching, with the path to my future quickly changing. I loved traveling and seeing the world flying on the C-130. I felt like it was the best job in the world. I finished my degree and immediately found myself volunteering for more and more trips, taking one every chance I could get. I never realized the opportunities I would have to travel and see the world when I joined the military.
In August of 1990 our unit was asked to volunteer and go to Saudi Arabia during Desert Shield. Of course I wanted to go, so I immediately volunteered. I could not believe that I was about to go to a place where I would be involved in a war; a realization that had never entered my thoughts. I wasn’t alone, it didn’t take long to realize there where many people with me on this mission who had similar thoughts, but some found themselves not wanting to be there. I can remember their words, “This is not what I signed up for!” As a young sergeant, these words and attitudes bothered me because I found myself feeling this was our duty as military men and women. I had a deep feeling that I needed to be there for my country to fight the fight. I took an oath saying I would defend the constitution and obey the orders of the Commander and Chief. Later in my career in 2003, our unit entered into another war, and by this time I had become a Flight Engineer, and was now being sent off to war again. I knew from experience what was about to happen. I felt prepared in knowing how we would live and what to expect, and knowing this is what I had signed up for. I spent the next two years rotating in and out of the theatre. During this time I started to realize that I hadn’t just signed up to get the benefits and just to fight the fight. I was there for my kids, my wife, my family and friends; it was more than just an oath. I knew this was something I had to do in order to insure their freedom and safety.
After the first six months of the deployment I returned home for a short break. While I was home I attended a Veteran’s Day program at my son’s school. As I sat there amongst all of the other veterans dressed in their VFW uniforms along with their wives dressed in red, I found myself thinking about the wars they might have been in, WWII, The Korean War, Desert Storm or was it Vietnam? I thought about the pain and suffering they may have experienced and wondered what they had been through. I can’t describe the honor I felt because of the service, the sacrifice, of all those men and women sitting there next to me. I remember that day all too well, my heart was pounding, the tears stinging as they were running down my cheeks while I watched the children marching around waving their little flags and singing “America the Beautiful,” “The Star Spangled Banner,” and “God Bless America.” I was overwhelmed with emotion. These were my kids, our kids, families and friends, all there, honoring and supporting our veterans. These people, most of whom I didn’t even know were there to support us, for what we had done and continue to do for our country and our freedom.
I realized right then and there what my “Why” was! I will never have to ask myself “Why?” again.
Mabey you should ask yourself why you serve. We need airman who are in it for more than just the education, benefits, and trips around the world. So, ask yourself…What is your Why?