Why I Serve

  • Published
  • By Col. Mark Riselli
  • 509th Maintenance Group commander
Studies show three primary reasons people fail to achieve their goals: They don’t know what to do to be successful; they don’t know how to accomplish their goals; or, they don’t know why they want to succeed in these goals. Of the three, researchers show that knowing why is the cornerstone to all success. When you know why you’re pursuing a goal, you can learn what to do or how to do it. Pursuing success without establishing your foundation of why is like building a skyscraper on shifting sand.

Identifying your why is equally fundamental to your career in the Air Force. Although many of us who have taken the oath “to protect and defend” would point to a desire to serve as our why, each service member has a unique set of stories that explain why we choose to put on a uniform every day. Because these unique stories define our individual why, our success will be dependent upon our ability to identify and articulate why we serve.

Perhaps your why, like mine, began with the educational benefits of service.
Perhaps your why, like mine, has roots in a family heritage of service.
Perhaps your why, like mine, appreciates the opportunity to travel and see more of the world.

Regardless of where your why begins, I’d like to suggest discovering your unique why – that story is a far more powerful driver of success. Look for the day that your generic why became personal: The day you recognized you are part of something bigger than yourself, and that you have a direct role in the success of the mission.

Over the course of nearly 23 years, there are several distinct days that define why I serve, but without hesitation, I can tell you the day my generic why became personal.

I was a young captain, assigned to Kadena Air Base, Japan, standing on the flightline early in the morning as my unit participated in the response effort after the mid-air collision of a U.S. Navy aircraft and a military aircraft from a nearby Pacific region nation.

That day, I saw first-hand how our military could be used to influence an international situation. Despite tensions, the situation resolved peacefully. My unit was tasked to respond, and we delivered. More than that, I caught a glimpse of why I serve. I had specific leadership tasks that were time sensitive and my success had a direct impact on the success of our response efforts.

That day left an impression on me because it was the first of many days I realized that even though I was part of a massive organization, I had a personal stake in its success. To this day, when asked why I’m still serving, I know my answer is rooted in my experience in Okinawa. We train to carry out our nation’s will with force if required, but every day we are capable of using that same training to save lives.

Why do you serve?