My family continues to live the American dream. My great grandparents emigrated from Europe in search of better lives in the United States. Only a few generations later, because my relatives embraced the opportunities this country offers those willing to work hard, I grew up wanting for nothing.
Six years ago, I accepted a commission in the United States Air Force Judge Advocate General’s Corps. At the time, I reasoned that since this country had given my family so much, I ought to pay it back with a few years of service. As I now prepare to leave active duty, I think about those years and what it means to serve.At times, it was challenging and monotonous. I will not miss waking up at 4:30 a.m., sleep-deprived, to run laps around a frigid track. Nor will I miss setting aside an entire day each autumn to complete the annual gauntlet of computer based trainings on topics ranging from the First Amendment to fire extinguishers.
But I will miss military service and the people — from the junior airmen to the commanders above me. Even at its most challenging or monotonous, my time in uniform has been rewarding and enriching.
I realize now that my understanding of service was uninformed and wrong. Simply put, I have not paid down the debt I owe to the United States. To the contrary, having had the privilege and pleasure of serving alongside brave patriots, I am further and forever indebted to my country.
Wherever life takes me, I will be better for the lessons I learned during these last six years — the importance of living with integrity, prioritizing the collective good over individual wants and approaching every challenge with an unwavering commitment not to simply get the job done but rather to excel. And I will always remember and draw inspiration from the countless men and women who deployed overseas, often on multiple tours, in support of our Global War on Terror and other humanitarian missions. Their stories are not all the same, but the common thread for each is that of sacrifice — physical sacrifice of one’s safety and health along with the sacrifice of missed holidays, anniversaries, births and other life events that we at home take for granted.
Keeping the country safe will require humble submission to service and a willingness to put aside ideology.
Jan. 20 brings a new administration to Washington, D.C. Many of the men and women who will take the reins, including the incoming commander-in-chief, are new to government service. They’ve built successful and lucrative careers in business, finance, entertainment and medicine. They bring with them unique talents and skills and a promise to approach problems differently.
I hope that they too soon recognize that, while our country may gain from what they bring to government service, each of them has more to gain from serving our country. When their time in service ends, will each understand and honor the debt they owe to the American people and to the men and women who will daily serve alongside them in uniform and as civil servants — models of selfless hard work and sacrifice? As the highest-level executives of our government, they will learn better than I the awesome magnitude of the mission they undertake and the unacceptability of failure.
Keeping the country safe and secure will require absolute and humble submission to service and a willingness to put aside ideology, partisanship and the need for individual effort to be recognized. Commitment to these principles is the standard by which their service will ultimately be judged, as is the standard those of us in uniform are judged.
As I end my active duty military tour, I respectfully ask for no recognition of my individual service, but ask instead for the opportunity to express my deep gratitude — to say thank you to the men and women I’ve been blessed to serve alongside. I will be forever grateful to the United States and to the American people. The last six years have been the most rewarding of my life. I will always owe for the privilege this country provided me. Thank you.