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What It Means To Serve

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Howard Ward
  • 2nd Airlift Squadron commander
In the middle of holiday season, it's easy to dwell on the things we miss versus the things we gain as we serve away from home at this time of year. I have a picture of my family and some craft items my children made for me on my desk along with lots of thoughts of what they're doing in preparation for the holiday. But then I stop and reflect upon the things I've gained from being here, particularly at this time of year...those thoughts bring me full circle to the very heart of what is means to serve.

A life spent in service is a life spent finding greatness. Dr. Martin Luther King had a great quote about this subject. He said "Anyone can be great because anyone can serve. You don't have to have a college education; your subject and verb don't have to agree to serve. All that's required is a soul full of grace and a heart full of love."

Our core values also reflect the idea that the path to individual greatness is losing yourself in service to others. This is certainly not a new concept for Americans. The original signers of the Declaration of Independence didn't sign on to the idea of freedom without consequence; most lost personal fortunes, and in many cases their lives and their families' lives for their stand. None can argue today that their stance of service before self was in vain...our right to chart our own course in life is built upon the foundation of that selfless act over 200 years ago.

As for the here and now, our service is a testament to the idea that freedom will always be a work in progress...and every generation is faced with the choice of remaining comfortable as our hard earned freedom erodes, or to draw a hard line and respond. The time and place of our moment of truth was not of our choosing...our lot was cast on 11 September 2001.

I'm proud that our generation's response was to declare to all who brought us to this moment, "This is our freedom and you can't have it!" We chose the path of service and made the choice to our own risk, we're all here together as both servants and stakeholders of the great vision we call America...a place where anyone can achieve anything they dare to dream.

I'll certainly miss being with my family this holiday season...but when I think of my children growing up in a world where their freedom is threatened, I take comfort in knowing that the sacrifice is worth it. More than any material holiday gift I could receive, I get far more from knowing my service continues to pay the price of freedom...and by our example, the next generation will have seen the proper response when they face their moment of truth.

I'm proud to be here with you in service to our nation more than ever at this time of year. That's what it means to be free...that's what it means to serve.