BY WIN GRUENING
Like many in my generation, I grew up believing that serving our country in the military is an honor and a privilege. My grandfather served in WWI, my father in WWII, my twin brother and I served during Viet Nam.
Looking back, my military service did more to shape me as a person than any other life experience I’ve had. It affects the way I dress, the way I think, and how and why I vote. It has shaped my attitude about America, its military, and its place in the world today.
The military isn’t a place where you spend a lot of time worrying about what to do or where you were going next. Pretty much everything was decided for you.
Yet, I can think of no other endeavor where so much is expected and so much responsibility is placed on people at such a young age. Imagine getting a job in the private sector in your teens or early twenties where you are responsible for millions of dollars of equipment and the lives of fellow soldiers. You follow orders, but you are well trained, still required to think independently and make rapid decisions that can mean the difference between mission success or failure – sometimes life or death.
We trained as warriors but helped keep the peace. We performed humanitarian missions that helped other countries in time of disaster. One of the most thrilling flights I participated in was on Christmas Day, 1972, when I flew a mission of medical supplies and equipment into Nicaragua after an earthquake devastated the country’s capital city, Managua.
Similar missions have occurred in many other countries throughout the world.
During times of war, the military has the same mission – to keep the peace. That may sound strange but it’s true. No one wants war. But our country and its flag were born almost 250 years ago during a war no one wanted. There is nothing contradictory about the idea that preserving and protecting our country and its flag require vigilance and sacrifice, and sometimes, even war.
My 10 years in the Air Force occurred early in my life – four years at the Air Force Academy and six years on active duty, mostly as a C-141 pilot. I was lucky. While I flew all over the world and spent time flying in and out of combat zones in Southeast Asia, as far as I know, other than an occasional indiscriminate rocket attack, no one ever shot at me. We had our share of aircraft emergencies, but I never felt I was in any real danger.
Some of my classmates and friends were not so fortunate. Some were wounded or died in the line of duty – many demonstrated incredible bravery and courage in the face of extreme danger. Most endured hardships, financial sacrifice and family separations that are commonplace in the military.
But whether you were on the front lines or not, everyone was willing to sacrifice in some way because you were proud of your mission. I have never served with any group of men and women who were more skilled, more dedicated, or more professional than the American military.
For that reason, l believe all our men and women in uniform and their supportive families deserve our gratitude and respect.
Today, we face terror threats from an enemy whose single stated goal is to destroy us. They want to destroy our flag, our God, and our country.
It’s deeply troubling that many of our young people today exhibit little pride in being American. It raises the question: from where will the patriots come to protect our freedom in the future if our citizens don’t have that pride in their flag and their country?
Our country isn’t perfect – but it is one of the few nations on earth truly fulfilling the dream of liberty for all. Many Americans have served and died to preserve that dream. Let’s not forget them or the principles for which they stood.