Great appreciation for veterans past and present

TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – This weekend we observe Veterans Day. It is the perfect opportunity to stop and reflect on the men and women who served in defense of our great nation. In my opinion, our nation’s veterans, as a whole, have accomplished more to bring peace and stability to this world than any other military force or organization. 

You can look back through our nation’s history and read about the success our military achieved in various wars, conflicts, natural disasters or humanitarian crises. Veterans of our military are nothing short of heroes and we owe them our appreciation.

My last duty assignment was at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany. I spent much of my off-duty time traveling Europe.  Anyone who studies military history would love an assignment to Europe. 

I was fortunate to visit some of the sites of World War I and II. You cannot ask for a better lesson on what the war veterans experienced than to see the locations in person. So, while I was stationed in Germany, my wife and I made it a priority to show our daughters the places most kids in the United States would only read about in books. We walked the grounds of the Dachau Concentration Camp and read about its liberation by US Forces. We spent three days in Normandy, France, walking the beaches of Utah, Omaha, Gold and Juno.  I read the accounts of brave men who stormed those heavily fortified beaches in an effort to break through the front lines of German forces.

On one excursion, our family drove to Belgium to see the Bastogne War Museum, the site of the Battle of the Bulge. This is a must see location if you ever visit Belgium.  The museum sits on a hill overlooking the area where the battle to counter a massive German offensive occurred. You can walk the grounds and gaze over the woods where thousands of U.S. Soldiers fought against a near unsurmountable military force. Some estimates have the total number of American casualties at 100,000 men and women.  You can only imagine what the survivors who made it through that battle must have felt.  Their courage was part of the turning point for the war.

My family also visited the grounds of American cemeteries at Normandy and in Luxembourg.  Walking through these hallowed cites brought to light sacrifices of those who have gone before us.  Roughly 15,000 men and women are buried at those two locations.  Although that is an overwhelming number to process, to think of the many more thousands who fought in Europe and survived the carnage is truly impressive. Those veterans fought for the liberation of a continent and it came at a heavy price. 

As Airmen, we have many reasons to appreciate our veterans. The Army Air Corps had many of the courageous giants who laid the foundation for the future. Our Air Force’s history was formed by brave men and women who pushed the limits of flight, contributing to every major war and campaign since 1947.  Those veterans created the force we have today. 

As a chief master sergeant, I’ve had plenty of opportunities in my career to study the history of our Air Force.  I have listened to personal accounts of America’s heroes such as Col. Gail Halvorsen, known as the “Candy Bomber.”  His accomplishment during the Berlin Airlift is nothing short of awesome.  Retired Brig. Gen. Chuck Yeager pioneered high-speed flight and became the first pilot to break the sound barrier.  His work played a huge role in developing the fighter aircraft we have today.

Since our beginning, Air Force veterans have contributed to war efforts and supported numerous humanitarian operations.  They delivered food, water, emergency supplies and, ultimately, the helping hands of Americans to all corners of the world. Often times, they delivered hope to those who were searching for it. Air Force veterans brought overwhelming power to our enemies and have helped those in need for the past 70 years. 

Today, Airmen are engaged now more than ever. Here at Travis Air Force Base, California, veterans continue to serve alongside those of us still in uniform. They may wear civilian clothing or carry contractor badges, but they are our teammates, helping us deliver American power, anytime, anywhere.

I encourage you to take time this weekend to thank a veteran.  We all know one. They may be a parent, family member, close friend, a former supervisor or mentor. Thank them for their service to our nation and for laying the foundation for those serving today.  Ask to hear their story of service.  Their response may very well surprise you.

To all those who served and continue to serve in uniform today, I thank you.  Thank you for the sacrifices you made to defend our country and its interests. This weekend, as the country reflects on your service, please know a debt of gratitude is owed to each of you.  A huge thank you is owed to your families as well for their support on your behalf. We cannot perform our mission without them.  I salute you and your family.