Holy warrior reflects on life, service

EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska -- When you read this, I'll have celebrated my 50th birthday ... hard to believe. Another milestone in my life will happen in April - I'll have 20 years of total service in the United States Air Force. Also, hard to believe. Attaining two milestones within a month forces me to reflect a little bit on life and service. So, spend a little time with me for some thoughts from a 50-year-old "holy" warrior.

I was 30 when I was commissioned in 1987 through the Chaplain Candidate program. This unique program allows ministerial/priest/rabbinical candidates to see if God is calling them to minister to military personnel.

My first Air Force experience was Pease AFB, N. H. - an old SAC base. Strategic Air Command was formed, in part, to deter the former Soviet Union from attacking the U.S. and our allies. I realized the value of an AF Chapel. I noticed people from all over the world and all sorts of faith traditions gathering in one place to worship our Creator. In the chapel, people can learn about life, find that friends will stand with them as they struggle with difficult decisions, and find peace between themselves and our Creator - especially when the mission of the Air Force can call on us to give the ultimate sacrifice. I learned that God was more alive in an AF Chapel than I experienced in my Field Education churches.

The next summer, my family and I joined the Air Commandos at Hurlburt Field. Even in 1988, there were still plenty of people serving on active duty who were part of the failed rescue attempt of American hostages in Iran (1979). The memories were real and the unit cohesiveness was tight for these warriors. I learned that people in the Air Force are a unique breed that I was proud to be part of.

I spent nearly five years with the 928th Airlift Wing, a reserve C-130 unit at Chicago O'Hare Airport. We went through Desert Shield/Storm and the fall of the Iron Curtain together. For half a decade we worshiped, played, fought a war and healed together. When I was called to active duty, it was more difficult for me to leave my reserve unit than the church where I was a pastor. I learned that the Air Force is a family. This means there may be times of disagreement, maybe times of anger - but there are always good times, special times, historic times - all great Air Force family memories.

My next two assignments taught me about deployments and Air Force connectivity. I experienced three regional and three contingency deployments in six years. From war-torn Sarajevo in Bosnia-Herzegovina to Malaysia, I learned about Air Force teamwork, sharing and caring about people outside our gates. I also learned what a small world the Air Force is as I got to work again with some old friends of the Air Commandos in Operation Joint Guard. My biggest lesson learned? We all have reputations and people will talk.

My last two assignments have been post 9/11. I, too, have been deployed in defense of our freedom and yet again, a new generation of Americans is learning that freedom is not free. Do you realize that all of us are part of history?

As my family and I watched the commercial jetliner drive into Tower 2 on that fateful day in 2001, my then 16-year-old daughter looked at me and asked, "Dad, my children are going to ask me about this day someday, aren't they?" How profound to serve our country in this time and place.

So what have I learned from 20 years in the Air Force and 50 years of life? 1. Keep your priorities straight. Faith is a personal strength-builder and a force multiplier. 2. We are part of an organization where people voluntarily serve to make our world a better place. 3. We are part of a family - not perfect and in need of correction at times, but people who take time to correct us really care about us. 4. We all have reputations and many times our reputations precede us to a new assignment. How do you want to be thought of - as a person of integrity, service and excellence, or as something else? 5. We are part of a history that people can only read about. So be proud and stand tall, no matter how long you serve or how you return to the civilian sector - because it is the civilian sector who allows us to serve.

I thank God every day for every person in this great Air Force family. I thank God every day for the people of the United States of America who send their best and brightest into our armed forces to serve, protect and be our nation's ambassadors. I thank God for the opportunities to make a difference in other people's lives. I challenge each of you to think about this and decide where you are making a difference.