JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska —
My favorite line in the Airman's Creed is the line that says "I have answered my nation's call". For me that line sums up what being an Airman in the United States Air Force is ultimately all about: Service.
One of the highest honors we have as men and women in uniform is the honor of serving our country. Sadly, this simple yet uncommon act is sometimes undervalued when it comes to defining a great Air Force career. Some people have a tendency to overly view evaluation ratings, decorations, awards and promotions to the higher echelons of rank as the only hallmarks of a great military career.
Those people, however, are missing the bigger picture.
Promotions and other career accolades are worthwhile endeavors, and there is nothing wrong with striving to achieve them. They help to highlight exceedingly great performance and help to distinguish you from the rest of the pack. However, if you are not careful in how much prominence you give to those achievements, you will ultimately reduce your service to mere careerism.
Careerism and service are very distinct from each other. Careerism often involves doing something, such as a task or a project merely for what it will do for you and your career.
Service, on the other hand, is different. Merriam-Webster defines service as "a helpful act", and a "contribution to the welfare of others." In other words, your service should be selfless, not selfish.
Do not get me wrong. I am not saying you should avoid trying to advance your military career while you serve your country. The point of my message is to remind you why you are really here and what it really means when you put on the uniform: it is all about your service.
There are some who will separate after four or six years of service as a senior airman, and there are some who will go above and beyond and retire with 30 years of service as a chief master sergeant. However, when it is all said and done at the end of the day, service is simply service, and sacrifice is simply sacrifice.
A quote by Airman 1st Class John L. Levitow, the lowest ranking Air Force Medal of Honor Recipient, sums up the meaning of service excellently. He said, "I have been recognized as a hero for my ten minutes of action over Vietnam, but I am no more a hero than anyone else who has served this country."
Promotions, decorations, quarterly and annual awards have their place in our Air Force. But your service to your country should never be undervalued by any of those things. Your honorable act of service in and of itself is a praiseworthy achievement and by many respects is the only hallmark that matters when it comes to defining your military career.
This goes out to all who serve, all who served yesterday, and all who will serve tomorrow: Thank you.