Vector check - why do you serve?

GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- In recent weeks there's been a lot of chatter at the water coolers about the future of the Air Force. Folks are concerned, and it's evident from their comments: Is my contract going to get cut? What about retirement benefits? Forget doing more with less, soon we'll be doing everything with nothing!

Their concerns are understandable; our country and the armed services are headed into challenging times. News headlines talk of personnel and budget cuts, and the million-dollar question is how bad will it be?

The challenges that loom on the horizon aren't unprecedented; our nation has gone through them before. But, they are unique and personal to many of us. At times like this, when people question what the future holds and whether they should continue serving in the armed forces, it's time to do a vector check. Why do we continue to serve?

We each joined the service for different reasons. For some, it was an adventure, a chance to see the world, to do something new and exciting; for others it was a means to an end -- education, a paycheck, or a new beginning. For many it was a proud heritage passed down to us by past generations -- to be patriots of our nation. Regardless of the reason we joined, time passes and many of us have reached the point where service commitment is fulfilled or term of enlistment is near complete -- yet we choose to continue to serve.

To our civilian comrades, you may not wear combat uniforms, but you serve our country with equal fervor. Why do you continue to serve? Don't some say the grass is greener in the private sector ... or is there some other reason you stay? What is that inner drive that keeps us serving?

It's healthy for us each to reflect on the reasons we serve. If your motive is the paycheck or tangible benefits, then it's conceivable we all could be rudely awakened if cuts are necessary. Challenging times sometimes call for drastic measures. If budget cuts result in the end of pension retirement or a halt to annual pay raises, will you still serve? Or what if the job loses its luster, and high ops tempo presses even harder, will you still serve? It's time to dig down deep inside, in those character places, and decide if you will stay the course when challenges come to pass.

Our nation was born of extraordinary circumstances, and has weathered many challenging times. During those times our flag has been carried not by super-heroes, but by ordinary men and women, like you and me. What distinguishes them though was the personal sacrifice they withstood and yet continued to serve. Sure, there were those who left the service along the way. But those who stayed the course carried our flag through the tough times.

So, I ask you: what's your motive for serving ... are you prepared to stay the course through these challenging times? It's time for a personal vector check.