You are America

  • Published
  • By 509th Mission
  • Support Group
(Editorial note: Commentary co-written by Col. Ed Keegan, 509th Mission Support Group commander and 1st Lt. Phyllis Pelky, 18th Services Squadron at Kadena Air Base)

It is eye-opening to see how people outside the Air Force view us. I sat on the Officer Training School selection board a few weeks ago and scored application packages from more than 300 of the best and brightest of America's youth.

These were all college graduates with high grade point averages, high school valedictorians, captains of their sports teams in school, National Honor Society members, etc. They were graduates of schools like Harvard and Penn State, Georgia Tech and the University of Texas. It was a veritable Who's Who in America, and they all wanted to join the Air Force. Amazing.

Even among these elite candidates, one package stood out above all others. As part of the application process, each applicant wrote a short essay. The recurring theme in every essay was how they want to serve in an elite organization and how they wanted to give back to America for the privileged life they've been given. It was inspiring to see that level of dedication from people who can clearly make a great deal of money in the business world.

In this particular case, the applicant's essay caused me to pause and read his story aloud to all the other board members. He wrote:

"My father was an officer in the Cambodian Army fighting against the Khmer Rouge until he had to flee the genocide with my mother when she was pregnant with me. They trekked through mine-filled jungles and gave birth shortly after they reached the borders of Thailand. A few weeks later we were sponsored to the U.S., and now, I am a living testimony to the liberties of America. I can never avoid wanting to be in American uniform, fighting against the terrors of this world and standing for our rights. At the same time, I want to help alleviate the struggles for those who are victims of the trials of this world."

He then wrote a line that I will never forget. He said, "I want to live for something worth dying for."

In reality, this gentleman's story is also your story. His story is a reminder that what we do every day shapes and changes the world, and people are watching. People are inspired by the freedoms they see in America, and grateful that we are still willing to spend our lives spreading that freedom for the benefit of others. You represent the freedom that he and his family fought so hard to attain. You are the role model he uses as he determines how he will spend the rest of his life. You are "America" in the eyes of the world.

Freedom is easy to take for granted when you've always had it and it has never been threatened. Our success as a military is easy to measure, in that we allow Americans to take their freedom for granted. But from a broader perspective, the measure of our success is what we do on a global scale. You, as a volunteer in the U.S. Air Force, are still willing to risk everything to make life better for people suffering oppression and atrocities like we saw in Iraq and Afghanistan, or in Bosnia and Kosovo.

"I want to live for something worth dying for." After more than 22 years in the Air Force, it took a 23 year-old civilian to remind me just how great this Air Force is.