The “We’s” have it

TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – Twenty-one years ago a kid from Cincinnati, Ohio, departed for Air Force basic training.  He did so, not due to an overwhelming desire to serve his country, but as a rehabilitation opportunity of sorts.  This kid needed discipline and the opportunity to reinvent himself.  The USAF did just that, starting with his name. 

Justin Laurie would now be referred to as Airman, and eventually Sergeant Laurie. 

Our given names are one of the first personal attributes (the “I”) we shed to accommodate room for our respective service rank (the “we”).  Day-to-day existence shifted from an admittedly selfish inward focus to those who also sacrificed the “I” for “we.” 

As I prepare for retirement this summer, I find myself taking those proverbial trips down memory lane.  While I know there have been very challenging moments during my career, I am only recalling the good stuff.  I imagine most of those who have come before me had similar reflection experiences prior to hanging up the uniform. 

A few weeks ago I was working a base cleanup detail with my unit.  I joked that I started my career at Hurlburt Field, Florida, pulling weeds, and now I am ending my career at Travis Air Force Base, California, doing the same.  This time however, I didn’t do it because I was directed to.  I did it because I wanted to spend some time with the people who give my job a sense of purpose.  I wanted them to know that I wasn’t asking them to do something I haven’t done myself before, or will again.  The best part of the detail was really getting to know my Airmen on a more personal level.  I learned more about who they really are during one week of base cleanup than I had reviewing their performance evaluations and award nominations over the past year. 

In addition to revisiting the past, I find myself becoming more cognizant of my current environment.  For example, while rushing to the front of the line to pick up a prescription refill because I am in uniform and have priority, I am now more focused on the faces of those in that line. 

Soon, I will join the ranks of those veterans, and likely exchange in the kind of stories I am still making today.  However, I won’t get to know them as Lieutenant Colonel or Master Sergeant so and so.  Moreover, I also will not introduce myself as Senior Master Sergeant Laurie, but with the given name I referenced at the beginning of this article.  You see, I am just fine with giving back the title.  The concept of “we” however, I will take with me always.