If not us, then who?

  • Published
  • By Col. David Lewis
  • 14th Operations Group commander
In 2003, a senior Department of Defense memo was leaked to the press in which military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq were characterized as “a long, hard slog.” You may feel the same way, as you face long deployments and the many personal and family hardships associated with combat operations. Like the weary traveler on a long journey, you may wonder if there is a better way of life. Frankly, there probably is – and we protect it.

Roughly 300 million people are fortunate enough to call themselves American citizens and live in perhaps the greatest civilization mankind has ever known. Less than one-half of one percent of them put on a military uniform to go to work. Our lives as Americans are filled with abundance, incredible freedom and opportunity – and we protect all of that.

I recently celebrated a personal milestone: a quarter century of continuous service on active duty. But I’ll let you in on a little secret – there were several times when I wondered if I should get out and pursue a different career. Each time I wondered, I forced myself to think back to a different time and place.

The time was spring of 1991, and the place was southern Iraq. I was serving with the U.S. 1st Armored Division as an air liaison officer. Our combat operations were largely concluded, and my NCOIC and I made frequent trips to visit our widely dispersed Airmen, delivering supplies and hopefully a little morale boost. Traveling down a dusty road one day, we came across a young Iraqi man with two small boys scooping water from a nasty puddle of water along the side of the road.

As the father of three young boys myself, my heart was in my throat as we offered this young family some bottled water and a small share of our rations. Frightened at first, the young man, with tears in his eyes, eventually accepted our offer. As we drove away, I remember thinking how truly blessed and fortunate I was to have been born in the United States. It was difficult to talk for a long time, but right there I promised myself that I would never allow my children or grandchildren to be forced to scoop water from a putrid puddle because of the policies of some iron-fisted maniac. That single thought kept me on active duty during some tough times.

That scene has been replayed many thousands of times in the last 4 1/2 years of the Global War on Terror by great Americans in all branches of our armed forces. Sadly, that isn’t often seen as newsworthy, and few of our countrymen will ever recognize or truly appreciate how lucky they are. But protracted wars are difficult for many reasons and require incredible will and stamina to sustain. We have a daunting task, but our great society and way of life are under attack, and we cannot fail in our mission.

To those who have honorably completed their service commitment and are ready to separate, I salute you and thank you for your incredible service to your country in a time of great need. I hope you will continue to find ways to serve your country.

To those who are gearing up for the next leg of the long, hard slog – thanks for sticking with it. Your sacrifices will sustain our freedom and bring the gift of hope to many people around the globe. The challenges will be many and the working hours long, but we really do work for an

And remember – if not us, then who?