By Col. Anthony Lombardo, 17th Training Group commander
/ Published October 10, 2008
GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE, Texas --
As we approach the end of the year and holiday season, it's also a time to reflect on the sacrifices our veterans have made in defense of our great nation. Recently, you saw some of our Goodfellow uniformed representatives from the 316th Training Squadron who visited former POWs in the Veteran's Hospital at Big Spring, Texas. It is with that same spirit we must continuously acknowledge and somehow find ways to thank those who have served in uniform.
"The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional to how they perceive veterans of early wars were treated and appreciated by our nation."
- George Washington, First President of the United States
How incredibly poetic and prophetic were President Washington's words spoken more than 200 years ago. Those words are as true today as they were then. How many of us witness a retiree shuffling through the commissary or BX and see just an old man or woman, infirmed by age, likely with children and grandchildren, and needing a cane or walker just to shuffle past the frozen foods. What we see is the cumulative effect of years, a life lived and a kindly grandparent. What we don't see are the months and years spent away from loved ones, the horrors of combat and the enduring emptiness of friends lost.
These more subtle details of a life committed to service are things not apparent at first glance or readily witnessed in between the knit sweater and the thick glasses. These are things that can only be gleaned by genuine interaction, by taking a moment to smile and ask them the details of their life that we in uniform strive daily to emulate. Often we are surprised by the benefits reaped when we stop a veteran, ask them their name, about their families and what branch they served with. Through that brief interlude, the Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine can draw a deeper and more meaningful understanding of patriotic national service and the greater tradition that they have volunteered to become a part of.
However, just as there is a bond between the warrior standing watch and the warrior he has relieved, there remains a bond between those who wear the uniform every day and those who have laid it up permanently. While the retired veteran no longer stands shoulder to shoulder in harm's way, each represents a legacy of service for others to take up the cause in defending our country and our way of life. By connecting with those who have gone before us, we can get in touch with the reasons why we continue to serve.
How much do any of us take for granted the freedoms we enjoy daily because our fathers and grandfathers and great great grandfathers risked life and limb in places like Khe Sanh, Verdun and Normandy? How infrequently do we show our thanks to those who ensured those freedoms? Likely not often enough to demonstrate our true appreciation for how good we have it and that we do not take these sacrifices lightly.
The way in which we honor our veterans reflects a commitment to our own service. By honoring our veterans, not only do we ensure that the contributions of these great Americans does not go forgotten, but also that the American legacy of selfless service is continued, and that the torch will continue to be passed during lifetimes and beyond.
As much as we would appreciate to have our own service acknowledged and appreciated one day when we take off the uniform, it is our duty to do the same for those who have preceded us.
When you see and meet another armed forces veteran, take a minute to show your appreciation and acknowledge the tradition that our founding president began.
(Capt. Christopher Boileau and 2nd Lt. Brian Brannigan contributed to this article.)