Learn why it’s important to serve: Ask a veteran

Over the course of my recent deployment to Southwest Asia between December 2009 and June 2010, I wrote more than 400 stories highlighting deployed service members.

Those stories included deployed Airmen as well as U.S. Army Soldiers. While my deployed base held a small percentage of the hundreds of thousands of deployed troops, what I learned from them about why they serve is a direct reflection of how the military veterans of today are proud to follow in the footsteps of veterans past.

The Airmen and Soldiers I was deployed with came from all walks of life and from all areas of the military. It was a total and joint force of people who had many reasons to serve.

Capt. Hillary Wykes, a KC-10 Extender pilot who was deployed from the 9th Air Refueling Squadron at Travis Air Force Base, Calif., decided to serve for personal reasons.

“I was working for United [Airlines] on Sept. 11, [2001] when the airplanes hit the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon, and crashed in the field in Pennsylvania,” he said. “The people on those planes were my co-workers. My whole world changed.

“I am incredibly proud to be able to serve in our nation’s Air Force,” he added. “This is my fourth deployment to the Middle East, and each time I am out here, I am reminded of how good we have it as American citizens.”

Senior Master Sgt. Mark Miller of the Iowa Air National Guard not only became a good friend of mine, but reminded me how important each and every service member is to defending our freedoms. He also pointed out how important one’s family is to serving.

“I have a great pride in our country,” Miller said. “When I told my wife I wanted to volunteer for this deployment, she asked me why. I told her that I was close to retirement, I would be taking off my first sergeant diamond in June, and I had one last chance to make a difference in an Airman’s life. Maybe I could help someone who was having a hard time coping in a deployed environment. She, my two sons and my daughter have supported me ever since and I’m glad I was able to do this one more time.”

Senior Airman Larry Syska from the 127th Force Support Squadron at Selfridge Air National Guard Base, Mich., said he considers his service a duty to his country.

“From top to bottom, whether it be here or at home, we all have an important role to play in our nation’s safety and security,” said Syska. “I choose to do it wherever and whenever my unit needs me. It gives me a great sense of pride and satisfaction knowing that even in the smallest of ways I do my part to keep our country safe.”

The Soldiers and Airmen I have cited here are but a small footprint in the long path of history of those who chose to serve their country.

On Veteran’s Day our nation took time to remember all those who have served and serve today. What I’d like you to remember is that it doesn’t matter what military service they are from, or whether or not they are Guard, reserve or active duty service members. The reasons people serve in the military coincide with the values our country was founded upon: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. They want to defend everything America represents and they do so proudly.

I also must add that we serve successfully only with the extraordinary help of our families, friends and the support of our hometowns. Our values, beliefs, character and courage are often shaped with the help of the people with whom we surround ourselves.

Combining each service member’s personal drive and his or her support from loved ones creates quite a formidable force for which every American should be  grateful for, and should remember.