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Profession of Arms: A Family Business

2nd Lt. Wyatt Edward Thomas with his father and grandfather. (Courtesy photo by Jefferson Thomas)

2nd Lt. Wyatt Edward Thomas with his father and grandfather. (Courtesy photo by Jefferson Thomas)

GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE, Texas --

“Why do you want to join the military?” I sat and contemplated this question as I began to write my essay for an Air Force ROTC scholarship. A host of reasons flew through my head; patriotism, commitment, service before self.  While all true, none of these really stuck as the singular reason I was joining. After much reflection, I was able to put into words why I wanted to be part of the world’s greatest military, “Because it’s the family business.” I was following in the footsteps of my father, grandfather, great-grandfathers and multiple uncles. It was all I had known in my short life.  It was a calling, a military lifestyle that I had grown accustomed to, and of which I realized I was quite fond. Despite my family’s deep military background, never once did I feel pressure to join. But the devotion to duty and country that I saw modeled every day inspired me, and drew me to the profession of arms.

So how and why does this matter to our military? Why is it important to instill in our sons and daughters a sense of patriotism and desire to serve their nation? Because historically, families that have made the military the “family business” produced some of our military’s finest officers and noncommissioned officers. The three reasons why I think these families produce the highest quality leaders are patriotism, dedication and the positive influences of military life.

Growing up in my military family there was a keen sense of patriotism, even in the ordinary things in daily life. I was always proud to drive up to our house and see our American Flag waving by the front door, or stand proudly at attention, a nine-year old, at the end of the duty day when the national anthem echoed over the base’s speaker system. Patriotism for me was knowing that every time my dad put on his uniform, he did so prepared to give his life for the ideals and liberties that we enjoy. Sound corny? Maybe. But it has the benefit of being true.

And the dedication required for military service extends to the whole family. Dedication to pick up and move to another base, state or country at any given moment. Dedication to change schools, sports teams and leave good friends.  Dedication to deal with the emotions, heartbreak, and fear when your parent deploys one more time. True dedication has to come from the whole family, because as my mom and dad always said, “military life is a team sport.”

Replete with positive influences, military life molds and shapes you in ways you don’t always understand or can explain. From a young age, my parents and grandparents shaped me into the person I am today. I had the advantage of living in a disciplined, regimented household, being held accountable and always having someone to look up to and to emulate. I was taught to live by a code: integrity, service, excellence. Sound familiar? I was taught that life was about being part of something bigger and grander than yourself, that it wasn’t about me, that I wasn’t alone. That I had teammates, wingmen, battle buddies, swim buddies in life.

So I consider myself fortunate to have grown up on this great team. The patriotism, dedication and positive influences that shaped Eisenhower, Patton and MacArthur have shaped many of us.  Now we have other generations to shape for service—service in or outside our military. And today, as we have largely lost the World War II generation, we have increasing numbers of fellow Americans who have almost no connection to the military. According to the New York Times, less than one percent of the U.S. population is currently serving in the military, so to the other 99% we must be ambassadors for integrity, service and excellence.  We must share our experiences, expect little and serve proudly.

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