Thursday, April 25, 2013

COMMENTARY>>Military service: ‘I put on my uniform’

By Chief Master Sgt. Andrea J. Gates
314th Airlift Wing Command Chief

I was sitting in the IDS meeting and part of the agenda was reviewing items from the Caring for People Forums. One of the issues raised was, not everyone seemed to be pulling their weight as far as being available (for various reasons) for deployments. It was voiced that it seemed to be the same people going on deployments and the same people that didn’t. This begets the question: Why should the one group of people be continuously putting themselves in harm’s way and on top of that, miss birthdays, anniversaries, births and more? After hearing this I was reminded of an essay I had read and decided it was very appropriate to share.

A chief master sergeant sits behind his desk, just down the hall from the operations group commander’s office at Pope Air Force Base, North Carolina. As the chief finishes his second cup of coffee and the last of the morning messages, the commander steps into the chief’s office.

“Chief,” the colonel says, “I hate to ask you this, but you are needed in Southwest Asia in six days for a 90-day rotation. Can you go?” With no emotion in his voice or without even looking up, the chief replies, “I put on my uniform this morning, didn’t I?” The colonel is taken aback – the chief doesn’t normally talk in riddles. Has this veteran of 28 years finally gone off the deep end? The wise old protector of the enlisted corps smiles and begins to explain.

“I made a promise to myself more than 20 years ago that I would only put this uniform on as long as I’m available for duty.” While this may seem obvious to some Air Force members, it seems to completely escape others. Available for duty means more than the desire to negotiate and select the premium assignments or choice TDYs.

Available for duty requires us to go any place in the world the President or officers appointed over us determines, at any given time. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have or receive our preferences. It does mean we’ll go when and where we are needed and called.

This approach may seem overly simplistic; however, upon further review I think everyone can agree, when it comes to defining service to our country, the answer is just that simple. In today’s world of “what can you do for me?” it’s easy to lose sight of what “service to our country” is all about. Service goes far beyond the individual; it affects the well-being of our nation. Sitting at home it is easy to forget the sacrifices we agree to endure in service of our country. Deployed to Southwest Asia, Italy or Bosnia, the sacrifices become much clearer. The bottom line is today we are an “all-volunteer force”. Our force has been reduced by 30 percent in the last five years while it remains a highly mobilized, continually-tasked organization. Everyone is vital to its continued success.

The Air Force will go on tomorrow with or without any single one of us; however, the efficiency of any one of its specific units may be adversely affected by the loss of only a few. All of us have the responsibility to report our availability for duty. If someone has a special family problem or special circumstance that precludes them from being available, they need to report it immediately and especially prior to being deployed. If any single member does not deploy when called upon, another member is forced to fill the slot. Anytime someone can’t or will not deploy, the ripple effect is felt throughout the Air Force. Everyone’s family would like them to be home for the holidays. I can’t think of anyone who would intentionally miss their child’s graduation. We’re all aware of the pain of losing a loved one is compounded by the grief of not being at their side in the final moments. Military members are asked to sacrifice all of this continuously. What we must remember is that we are serving our nation and we are all volunteers. It is not easy-no one said it would be. The leadership of our country depends on all of us to take a good look in the mirror and ask “am I available for duty?” If the answer is yes, then continue as the true professional you are expected to be. If the answer is no, you need to immediately notify your supervisor or commander. Your next step is determine if your non-availability is temporary or permanent. You then face the toughest question: should you resign, separate or retire? There are no pat answers.

Everyone must decide for themselves. Just as the chief, I too put on my uniform today and I am available for duty.

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