Your Image in the Mirror

POPE AIR FORCE BASE, N.C. -- One of the distinct privileges that most servicemen and women will have during their Air Force careers is the opportunity to live abroad and be immersed in a foreign culture. Many Airmen will PCS to an overseas location while others will only be able to visit these locations while TDY. Regardless though, any time outside the borders of the United States is an invaluable experience, not only in developing our understating of our foreign partner's culture, customs and national interests, but in developing a heightened awareness of the influence our country has over others as a symbol of hope and stability. Airmen living abroad will also witness first-hand the absence of certain liberties, safeguards and services that we have grown accustomed to here at home, underscoring that we're blessed to be Americans. 

During every Airman's period abroad there will be at least one time, if not several, when "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" will gain greater significance to them. They'll don their uniforms the next day, check themselves in the mirror and find themselves standing a little straighter and a little more confident that they have chosen the right profession - not job, trade or employment ... profession. For many Airmen, that image in the mirror may have first appeared to them on Sept. 12, 2001. For myself, I've had one more event in particular that I carry within me, reminding me daily how fortunate I am to be an American Airmen. 

The event occurred in the winter of 2004 while I was TDY to Krakow, Poland performing a CAPSTONE Mission. During a free afternoon, my crew and I visited one of the worst sites in the history of humanity, Auschwitz. The largest of Nazi Germany's concentration camps during World War II, Auschwitz was the site of roughly 1,049,000 Jewish, Polish, Soviet and Gypsy deaths - 232,000 being children. During our visit our tour guide left no detail of torture, cruelty and murder to our imagination. From the prisoner arrival process, where children were forever torn from their parents, wives forever separated from their husbands, to the selection process where officers of the Third Reich would determine which prisoners were either fit to work in pitiful conditions or immediately stripped of their clothes, eye glasses and prosthetic limbs then marched to massive gas chambers. Later these victims would be cremated in massive furnaces which were loaded and operated in some cases by family members of those gassed. 

Needless to say, I departed Auschwitz that afternoon numb with shock, sick to my stomach and depressed with tremendous sorrow for the Holocaust victims and their families. As the shock later faded, it was replaced with stirring resolve - that as members of humanity, we can never allow this atrocity to ever happen again. I also couldn't help but to feel blessed along with a deep sense of obligation. Blessed - to be a citizen of a county where my only limits are those set by my own desires to succeed. 

Obligation - to vigorously defend our liberties from the restraints of tyranny, securing our way of life and serving as an example and beacon of hope for those less fortunate. 

As American Airmen, we are the chosen few privileged to serve our nation's Air Force, the greatest the world has ever known. As American Airmen, our profession charges us with the responsibility to hold tyrants accountable while delivering security and sanctuary to those in distress around the globe. Regardless of our individual fields of expertise or rank, we all have a key role defending the ideals set forth by our forefathers through the employment of air power. We each are charged to perform these roles to the best of our ability in order to add velocity to our capabilities, ultimately delivering hope. 

"All mankind waits upon our decision. A whole world looks to see what we will do. We cannot fail their trust, we cannot fail to try" - July 15, 1960, Senator John F. Kennedy.