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It’s time to say ‘thank you’ to those who serve alongside us

OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. -- I just returned from a memorial service for two members of Team Souda who were killed in a car accident. They were a husband and wife with over 30 years of service as contractors, mostly to the U.S. Navy and nearly all of it at Naval Support Activity Souda Bay. They were survived by many family members but most noticeably a two-year-old grandson who was blissfully unaware of the sadness that surrounded him. 

As is the case with any memorial service, it leads most people to think about their own lives. I'm sure with each thought about the families of the lost, there was an equal amount of silent thanks for each person's own family. I know I sent a prayer home for the safety and security of my wife and three children as I serve overseas without them. 

Since I'm serving on a remote tour, many of my days, and most nights, give me time to think. When I'm alone, nostalgia and sentiment are easy to channel. 

In 1988, I decided to join the military. At the time, the decision was not completely patriotic or particularly courageous. My college girlfriend was the daughter of an Air Force colonel, and she spoke positively of her experiences with military life. I was all but sold when the Air Force told me I had a pilot slot if I wanted it. With enthusiasm, I rushed headfirst to become my family's only military member. 

When you're 21, life is just that- life. You live it and push forward, not a lot of planning and even less pausing. I entered into the military before the first Gulf War, before Al Qaeda and without much thought. I had no concept of deployments, mobility folders or shot records. 

Twenty years later, life is different. My college girlfriend is my beautiful wife of 17 years. I've got three wonderful children who are now the proverbial "Air Force brats." Unbeknownst to me in 1990, when I raised my hand in oath to defend the Constitution, I also swore my family into service to the country. For what some may read as sappy "company speak," I write as sincere truth. As they say, "My eyes have been opened." 

Our Air Force families serve alongside us. They suffer through extended time away from Mom or Dad. They deal with the flooded basements, runaway dogs, the snowblower that won't start, soccer practice, football practice and birthday parties that are inexplicably all scheduled at the same time. Our spouses tend to play down their sacrifices as part of their job. Our children accept it as the life that they know. Our parents wait in proud anticipation. 

When you hear an Air Force leader talk about the importance of taking care of our families, don't dismiss it as insincere. Take it as the voice of experience from years of service. On your behalf I say, 'Thank you Air Force families. Thank you for your support and the sacrifices you make for our country and your families. Without you, our nation and our Air Force could not stand.' 55th Wing Airmen, now it's your turn.