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Air Force ... a privilege, not a right!

LITTLE ROCK AIR FORCE BASE, Ark. -- "What you have chosen to do for your country, by devoting your life to the service of your country, is the greatest contribution any man can make!" ~ John F. Kennedy

Have you ever stopped and reflected on why someone would join an organization where the ultimate sacrifice could be the giving of one's life?

Recent Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom casualty numbers depict roughly 5,480 Americans have given their life in the defense of this great country and its ideals. Each time I ask a room full of Airmen why they joined the Air Force, I usually get a wide range of responses such as educational benefits, travel and taking care of one's family. However, the one constant response that seems to come from every Airman I have spoken with has been simple and profound, "A chance to serve my country."

It's all too clear that serving in today's Air Force is a privilege, not a right. Less than two percent of all Americans between the ages of 18-44 are serving on active duty and not everyone who wants to serve actually gets the opportunity. The Air Force is experiencing the highest retention rate in 15 years and has become a lean organization made up of those who are truly the "best of the best." Airmen serving today are some of the most highly skilled and highly trained individuals ever to wear the uniform.

However, it's not the training that makes us the greatest Air Force in the world, but our diversity. It is the ability to bring together a team of individuals from all corners of the world and mold them into a highly dedicated and efficient weapon system. Ours is a model based on Core Values that defines our foundation, unifies the force and ties us to the great warriors and public servants of the past. From the Tuskegee Airmen to Esther Blake (first female enlistee), Capt. John Walmsley Jr. (posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions during the North Korean conflict) to 1st Lt. Joseph D. Helton (Security Forces) who gave his life on Sept. 8, 2009 while training Iraqi police in Bagdad; each shared the same privilege--the privilege of knowing that no matter where we are in the world and no matter what the situation might be, our life can be trusted in someone else's hands.

Recently, a wise first sergeant pointed out to me a simple fact: even though the uniform has changed over time, the basic core principles grounded within the Air Force still remain the same. We are all part of a calling, the Profession of Arms, and have come together to ensure the freedoms for those who wish to be free. We must never forget we stand on the shoulders of brave men and women who have served before us and simultaneously lay the foundation for those who will serve after us.

So why do we belong to an organization where the ultimate sacrifice could be the giving of one's life? It's simple: because we are servant professionals who understand freedom isn't free. Never forget why you serve ... why you put on the uniform, why you do what you do each and every day. We don't do it for the praise or glory, but simply the privilege of adding our names to the list of many great Americans who have gone before us.