These days, it's just 'us'

  • Published
  • By Senior Master Sgt. Sean Strong
  • 82nd Training Wing Air National Guard Training Liaison
It was a calm, quiet sea of blue Nov. 15. Not a word spoken; not a body moving, the air thick with a sense of reverence, honor and half a dozen other feelings that words can't quite capture.

This was the scene as I stepped into the standing-room-only base theater on this rainy November night. Nearly 1,000 trainees from the 362nd Training Squadron and leaders from across the 82nd Training Wing at Sheppard AFB had gathered for a memorial service for Airman 1st Class Dustin J. Curley.

Airman Curley, a member of the Massachusetts Air National Guard, died in an off-duty vehicle accident in early November 2010. He was an Airman in Training assigned to the 362nd TRS, Sheppard AFB, in the F-15 crew chief course.

On this night, active duty, Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve personnel and trainees all stood together as one sea of blue, one uniform, one cause, honoring one fallen Airman.

Over the course of my career, I have seen many changes in the Air Force. The move towards greater integration and a real-world Total Force construct has required all of the services to learn to work together more effectively so that "We" may bring our best to the fight in a synergistic, coordinated way. A collateral effect, I believe, was that this integration helped us better understand and appreciate what the different components provide to the whole.

The terrorist attacks on 9-11 also had a galvanizing effect within our forces, not only at an operational level, but also on a personal level. Our common resolve as military members came to the forefront and we became more of a team.

It's amazing how the same pressure that can cause destruction can also propel us forward; moving us to where we need to be.

Now we see a different Air Force than we did in the past. The lines between the Air National Guard, Air Force Reserve and the active duty Air Force are becoming less distinct. Some lines and distinctions are necessary; there will always need to be state and federal lines, active duty or Air Reserve Component lines. But, other lines of separation are unhealthy and counterproductive.

There was a day when the level of respect and camaraderie between active duty and Air Reserve Components was not what it should have been. Having lived in both worlds for nearly 25 years now, I can say that I've experienced a time or two where that relationship felt a bit like "us and them."

But that night in the theater, a sense of how far we've come washed over me as we stood in solemn remembrance honoring this Guardsman. But, that distinction was not a highlight, not an area of focus. No lines were drawn. No differences noted.

My wife wept as "Taps" was played mournfully in the background and as the American flag was folded with care. I, too, was moved and powerfully struck with this thought: "truly, We are one sea of blue, one uniform, one cause, honoring one fallen Airman... one of US". These days, it's just, US. I am proud to serve you all. "Aim High ... Fly-Fight-Win."