ALTUS AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. — If you were approached by a co-worker, civilian or family member and asked the question, “Why do you serve?”, what would your answer be? How would you internalize what you do for the Air Force to the point where you could answer that seemingly simple question?
Over the past several years, I have heard a full array of reasons from the events of 9/11 to family traditions. It was not until the sequestration events during this past spring, specifically the suspension of tuition assistance that I thought harder about the reasons why we serve.
Let me start by saying that I am not against tuition assistance or any other benefit that the Air Force has given us. I personally have benefited from the use of TA and believe that our Air Force reaps the rewards from members who have taken the initiative to further their education. I bring up this subject because the news about terminating TA seemed to invoke an enormous response and I wanted to try to put some things into perspective.
As Air Force members, we sometimes have a tendency to take things for granted. We have no problem when the 1st and 15th of the month come around and our paychecks are waiting for us in the bank — we have grown to expect that. When we look at our leave and earnings statement, we see different benefits such as housing allowance or subsistence allowance and maybe even some type of special-incentive pay that is unique to a particular job or career field. Most of those benefits remained largely intact during this fiscal crisis.
Many of us have gone over to the clinic and received treatment and medications that would have been very costly if we had to procure treatments in the civilian sector. I did not see much effect on these benefits either.
While not every temporary duty or permanent change of station assignment was perfectly timed or to an ideal location, we found some type of benefit whether it was the opportunity to travel or the associated allowances we received from being relocated for that period of time. In regards to TDYs, this area definitely saw some adjustments and some heartburn, but nowhere on the level I saw with the discontinuance of TA.
This revocation happened in the wake of post 9/11 education benefits, various scholarships offered through professional organizations and Pell Grants. In addition, local colleges were working with members to make special arrangements to ease the financial burden.
I truly do not think members serve simply for the education benefits, despite the fact that there were many who made comments to the contrary. I cannot tell you how many indicated that they were planning to separate just because this one benefit was on the verge of disappearing. I can happily report that I did not see one individual from my unit log onto the Virtual Military Personnel Flight and start the separation process.
I am convinced there are different attitudes toward serving, such as education benefits or sense of family, patriotism or job security. I use the word “attitudes” because they are subject to change. We can all attest that we have taken a certain position or attitude toward something one minute and in the next, have it swayed to change. Hence, why I did not know of anyone who said they joined the Air Force merely for the education benefits, try to separate when TA was not available.
This led me to believe that in actuality, we all serve for the same purpose, which can be summarized by one word: Commitment. We all took an oath of service upon enlistment and during reenlistment. Did that oath say anything about serving for the promise of getting medical or educational benefits? Does it even say anything about pay and allowances or patriotism? The obvious answer is no.
Our oath uses words such as “support and defend” and “obey,” all of which require commitment. It requires a deep inner conviction and an obligation that is not limited to any one individual. Our commitment encompasses our Air Force, our families and our nation. When we can acknowledge the reason we serve, is because of our commitment, we set aside our individual attitudes toward a particular benefit or belief and take up a cause that is much bigger than any one of us combined.
Hopefully we can all take a step back when asked the question why we serve and say that it wasn’t because of a particular benefit or promise. Some benefits have been cut, with more on the horizon, during the current fiscal environment. change, So let us keep our perspective of our commitment to “serve and defend” and sustain our Air Force as the most commanding power on the face of the earth.