Veterans Day...gratitude to those who serve

  • Published
  • By Col. Mark Henkel
  • 18th Operations Group commander
As Veterans Day approaches, we will undoubtedly read numerous messages from our Department of Defense and Air Force leadership. These messages of gratitude for your service to our great country are well deserved. With the ongoing war on terror, the sacrifices made by all those in uniform have been greater than ever. I'd like to echo those thoughts and express my deepest gratitude to those who serve. I would also like to add a special thanks to those who stand by our Vets...their spouses, family members, and friends, who serve our military in different ways. 

I have met many spouses who knew little about military life before marrying an active duty service member. They have put their careers and education on hold to relocate. Some of them have had the unique opportunity to learn about military life during a first duty assignment stationed overseas, far away from their parents and hometown friends. This was, no doubt, the beginning of their life of sacrifice and adventure. There are new languages to learn, cultures to understand, and perhaps different driving habits to master. While this may be a bit scary at first, they soon realize their family has significantly grown. It now includes a new network of squadron friends, base support agencies, and faith groups that are there to lend support when help is needed. 

Although our base community provides many means of assistance, deployments can put a significant amount of strain on even the most independent spouse. During deployments, even the simplest tasks can become complicated, from juggling the schedules of active children to moving while your spouse is deployed. It is never easy to function as a single parent, or to cope with the loneliness of missing a loved one, but coupling that with anxiety over a deployed spouse's safety makes for an especially trying time. That is when our military family steps in and helps those left behind in ways those on the "outside" can only imagine. Our families cook meals for one another, babysit each others kids and move belongings from one house to another. Often we do these things for complete strangers, all because we are unified through a common bond - pride in service. 

Our country also owes gratitude to the parents of those in uniform. They have influenced their sons and daughters such that they chose the path of military service. They no doubt are our biggest cheerleaders and express an unwavering commitment to the veteran's success. Many have experienced the unthinkable loss of a son or daughter in battle, yet still speak out in support of our military's efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, again because of their pride in service. Our nation owes these patriots the same respect and gratitude given to their family members in uniform. Parents are our teachers, and no doubt, they have taught this generation that freedom is not free, but earned through the sacrifice of those in uniform. 

I am comforted by the thought that as a veteran I will never stand alone. In addition to my brothers and sisters in arms, I have an extended family that would look after my loved ones as if they were their own. I've met them in the airport, where they thank me for my service and share the fact that their son or daughter serves. I've met them on base, when they took my wife to get the car fixed because I was deployed or TDY. I've met them on the baseball field, practicing with my children, and boasting that their father fixes airplanes. This is where our veterans get their strength. This is where a debt of gratitude is owed.