• Published
  • By Lt. Col. Jefferson DeBerry
  • 422nd Air Base Squadron
On a recent trip abroad, we had the pleasure of meeting a humble man from India. He was married with five children and spent the last 18 years separated from his family. He chose this lifestyle so he could financially support his family back home. In terms I could equate to the Air Force, he is voluntarily serving an 18 year remote assignment away from his family. He sees his family a few weeks each year, and he has accepted his lifestyle so his family can have a better life.

On 14 February 2018, a 15-year old student by the name of Anthony Borges was at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. During a shooting rampage, a group of his classmates ran into a classroom to hide from the gunman. As he tried to lock the door to protect others in the room, he was shot five times in his legs and back, shattering his left femur. He is still recovering after selflessly making a decision to help others survive.

In another part of the world, an Air Force Lieutenant Colonel was diagnosed with terminal cancer in 2015 and passed away a few weeks ago on 6 March 2018. He was happily married with three boys and served as an instructor, developing future Air Force leaders. Despite his prognosis, he fought to stay in the Air Force. He was committed to serving the future of our Air Force…those who will one day take our place.

In these scenarios, the individuals sacrificed in a way that humbles us. They made a conscious choice to use their lives to benefit others, despite the risks or hardships. All of us serving in the military can relate to this cause. We’ve left the comforts of our home to dedicate our lives to serve others. We fulfill a bigger purpose to protect and defend our nation. Patriots before us have retired from the military and never spent a day downrange in harm’s way. Others have paid the ultimate sacrifice, many at a very young age, and their mothers and fathers will never have the chance to embrace their children again.  No matter where we fall on this spectrum of service, it is important to remember we have dedicated our lives to a profession that benefits others. This is more than a job. Furthermore, we have chosen to serve in an unprecedented time. All of us either joined or chose to serve in the military after our country was attacked. We knew the road ahead would be difficult and require great sacrifice. We have participated in two ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to liberate the oppressed and stop terrorism. We have established bases in Africa and supported a population ravaged by war in Syria. As the great Chinese philosopher Sun Tzu said, “The art of war teaches us to rely not on the likelihood of the enemy's not coming, but on our own readiness to receive him; not on the chance of his not attacking, but rather on the fact that we have made our position unassailable.” We embrace this spirit by continuously supporting joint exercises around the world, and we assure allies and neighboring countries that we stand with them when they need us. Collectively, we have made tremendous contributions and transformed the art of war. One UAV can precisely attack a moving target; decisively shaping the battlefield. As Americans serving our nation in the Armed Forces, each of us represents hope and optimism for the future of the world.

As a child growing up, my father always said “Every day above ground is a bonus.” It became expected he would respond with this phrase anytime someone asked him how he was doing. My sister, brother, and I would smile every time knowing he would reply with such a programmed response, but we didn’t truly understand the meaning of it. As an adult, I embrace this phrase and the underlying meaning. No matter what hand of cards life deals us, we have the ability to write our own future as long as we’re alive. It is a grim fact of life, but someday I will die. One day, those of you reading this will die. Our optimism wants us to believe this will happen many years from now when we’re old and lived a long, happy life. The reality is we know this could happen at any moment; our time here is limited. When our time comes, what legacy will we leave behind? How will our children or friends remember us? Knowing we have a finite time alive, the decisions we make should be made with purpose. How we choose to live our lives should be deliberate. Therefore, our choice to serve our nation and our families should be done with passion. Our choices should better those around us and inspire a contagious zeal to serve. In Dead Poet’s Society, the words of the late Robin Williams resonate, “Carpe diem…seize the day! Make your lives extraordinary.”

One day in Colorado, I took our children to a nearby military cemetery. We carefully strolled through the well-manicured grass reading markers and paying our respects to those heroes that came before us. Even after life, I wanted our children to see that our country still honors those that made the difficult choice to serve our country. The DeBerry family is synonymous with military service, and this has been passed down from multiple generations. My brother is in the Air Force, my father retired after 24 years in the Air Force, my uncle fought in Korea, my grandfather was a WWII veteran…we are a proud military family with a tradition of service. Our calling is to serve others, and our freedoms are more poignant to me since my mother is an immigrant from Taiwan. After visiting her family, I can see firsthand the opportunities our country provides us. Those of us serving in the military preserve those rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as laid out in our Declaration of Independence. A large percentage of people living today will never have these freedoms or even have the opportunity to leave their countries to pursue them. As we left the cemetery, I was struck with a powerful sense of pride for my father and those that came before us. I want my children to be proud of my sacrifices and those of us that serve today. The pages of history won’t mention each of us by name, but collectively, our impact will never be forgotten.

The work of serving in the military is not designed to be easy. Our first days of serving involve intense training to benchmark standards. We learn our trade in disciplined academic environments. We serve multiple deployments, TDYs, and remote tours around the world. We are committed to our cause. It is without a doubt that many of us work exhausting hours. Daily we push the envelope to lead our organizations to the best of our ability while balancing our well-being and those in our families. As we prepare for another inspection, it is easy for us to think how many hours are required to sort through MICT checklists, review policies and procedures, and engage with our staff to ensure we are meeting the standards established by our Air Force. But no matter how many hours we spend in the office or deployed in harm’s way, there is always a silver lining. It’s more about looking at the world through a glass that is half full and realize no matter how hard we think our lives are, there are others that would give everything they have to endure our struggles. Due to the simple fact we are Americans, we are privileged. People that have no freedoms, those that don’t have access to clean water or food, or those that measure their future in seconds in places like Aleppo would trade everything they have to be in our position. It’s all about finding the right perspective. Therefore, we should humbly serve with passion to inspire those around us to make this world a better place.