One of the most important pieces of advice I received upon being promoted to chief master sergeant was, “Never forget where you came from.”
Although this guidance was valuable as a new chief, it was something that I’ve always held in high regard.
No matter where I was in my career, I never forgot my humble beginnings as a kid from a small river town in Iowa who was raised on squirrel and owned little more than the clothes on my back when I joined the military.
Upon return from my recent deployment to Afghanistan a couple of months ago, it wasn’t an Alaskan cruise or a Disneyland vacation I needed to decompress. What I needed to get my feet back underneath me was a trip back home to see my family in northeast Iowa. Although this wasn’t the glamorous vacation my wife was hoping for, I knew it was the slow-paced environment I needed before returning to work in the finest mission support group in the U.S. Air Force.
Growing up in a small town, my only real exposure to the military was the local veterans who marched down Main Street every Veteran’s Day followed by the 21-gun salute over the Mississippi River. This was always followed by the playing of Taps.
Two years ago, I was able to share this childhood experience with my wife. Although the veterans were fewer in number, it still sent a chill up my spine to watch these seasoned former service members who were drafted to fight for their country, safely returning to their families and representing America’s military force during the annual parade.
When I pulled up to my parent’s driveway last month after the long drive across the Midwest and saw the American flag flying in the yard and the yellow “support our troops” ribbon on the door, I was very humbled. My mom hangs this flag every morning at the crack of dawn to honor our military members – all of you – and the sacrifices you make to defend our country. Rest assured, this same act takes place at several households in small towns throughout the country.
On my way back to Colorado Springs, we made a pit stop at my first duty station, Offutt Air Force Base, Neb.
The small visitor’s center at the main gate where my dad dropped me off 22 years earlier with a duffle bag and not a single stripe on my sleeve hadn’t changed a bit. Being back at the place where it all began caused me to reflect on a military career that has afforded me travel, education and experiences I never would have imagined.
I enlisted in the Air Force with the intent of a four-year stint and making senior airman. When my parents signed me over to the Air Force at age 17, it was never about promotion, awards or accolades. Believe it or not, it was about serving my country and someday being able to march side by side with those veterans in my hometown.
In today’s high ops tempo military environment, we sometimes forget about what is really important in life. Whether you are pursuing your next promotion, a college degree or a personal goal, don’t forget to take the time to stop and appreciate those things you already have. As a member of the world’s greatest military, you have plenty to be proud of. Step back and take a moment to thank those who helped you along the way and never lose sight of who you are and where you come from.