Veterans’ Day has come to mean so much to me, not just because I served in the Air Force for 20 years, but because of all the great veterans I’ve been privileged to know and meet. It’s been eight years since I retired from service. I admit to the fact that I was looking forward to being a civilian again, but it didn’t take me long to miss my military life and the camaraderie of the military “peeps”.
I joined the Air Force because I wanted to be part of something important. I wanted to be useful. I wanted to get out of Maine and “see the world”. When I left for Basic Training, I knew that I was truly leaving my childhood behind and heading out into the world as a self-contained adult. It was exciting and terrifying. Basic Training was tough for me at first. The physical demands were more than anything I’d ever had to endure. My gosh, we RAN all the time, run here, run there, run, run, run!! I must have dropped ten pounds and believe me, at that time of my life, dropping ten pounds was significant! I remember writing home (calls were scheduled and limited), tears dripping on the stationary, as I cried my despair at the horrible decision I had made.
I spent my high school years reading and writing. Those are pretty sedentary activities. Being on the move from daybreak to sundown was tough. I didn’t think I could do it, all the running and all the exercises. And most terrifying yet…the obstacle course looming ahead. I just KNEW I was going to fail. I was the second shortest in our flight. That meant that when in formation, I was all the way in the back. The tall, long-legged girls set the pace for all the marching and running that we did. I had a hell of a time keeping up with them. My Training Instructor (TI) realized my struggle and was always in my face (literally!). He was short too so he’d stand toe-to-toe with me, spittle flying, as he yelled abuse…I was weak, I was useless, I couldn’t do it, I should just quit. I was totally demoralized in those first couple weeks.
My first few phone calls home were done in tears. I wanted to prove I was worthy of the military, I didn’t want to be a failure, but I didn’t have any faith in myself. My mom disagreed. She’d say, “But you’re doing it, Deborah! It’s been (x-amount-of-days) and you are still there!” She’d tell me to not let that mean ole TI win. She’d bolster me up and I’d get off the phone determined to do what I needed to do to live up to mom’s belief in me. Let me tell you, those letters from home were my lifeline! Thank God for the support of my friends and family.
As the days passed and I accomplished each task, every push-up, every mile and a half run, every test, every inspection … I found myself walking around with a sense of WORTH. Putting on that uniform MEANT something. The military showed me that I could do ANYTHING. The military showed me how very capable I am. I learned that I could indeed offer something useful to my country. I walked straighter, my head held high (not with arrogance, but self-assured and proud…not just of me but of each and every other person who had served in the military). I felt a connection to them all. We were a military force of ONE nation under God!
I realized in the last days at Basic Training that the military had tore me down, that weak shell of a person I was, and built me back up into a dedicated, selfless, proud-to-be-serving, STRONG individual. I was a member of the United States Air Force and I LOVED it.
How long ago those days were. Another lifetime. So many things would happen to me in the twenty years that followed. Lots of drama and heartache and hardships and struggles. But it was all worth it.
What we do, those of us who have served and are serving, is a selfless thing. It really is. Even if we joined for the education benefits or to travel or because there was nothing else to do or for whatever reason, even if it wasn’t just for the right to serve our country, we all ended up doing just that. We sacrificed and sacrificed and sacrificed. And you know what? Most of us were proud to do it. I know I was. And so was my husband who served in the Air Force for 28 years (my hero) and my father who served for 30 years in the Army (another hero of mine) and all my other family members who served and are serving (my son-in-law is currently in the Air Force). It’s a big deal what we did, what those who are still serving are doing. We are a necessary part of our nations continued existence!!!!
So, God Bless America and every single service member, past and present, who has kept her people living in freedom, enjoying the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness!