Veterans Day: With gratitude to those who lived the words

Veterans Day

This week, we celebrate Veterans Day, originally called Armistice Day to recognize the armistice signed with Germany on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, signifying the end of World War I.

In the nearly 100 years since, the United States has been involved in many other armed conflicts – World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq and the global war on terror.

In the years following World War I and World War II, most Americans were proud when a father, brother, sister, uncle, neighbor or other relative served in any branch of the Armed Forces. Every child was gratified that a loved one served our great country by taking an oath and living by their words.

The Veterans were honored and revered.

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In today’s dynamic and turbulent world, veterans are rarely recognized and appreciated as they have been in the past.

The nadir for veterans was Vietnam, a war that fractured our nation. What had been a grateful nation seemed to have forgotten the sacrifice and service of more than 58,272 Americans who died as result of the Vietnam conflict. Fortunately, their names are forever enshrined on the Vietnam Memorial in Washington D.C.

I enlisted in the Air Force 46 years ago this year. With a draft lottery number of 356, my probability of being drafted was low, but I wanted to wear a uniform. I know, it’s corny, but the uniform played a role in my late adolescent motivation to serve.

Mostly I wanted to be a part of something greater than myself. I also wanted to learn electronics. My dad had had a colleague who earned his education and technical training in the Navy. He had mentored me in becoming an amateur radio operator. So I enlisted.

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As an airman, I served three years, then joined the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) at the University of Utah while enrolled in classes at Weber State College at Ogden. I graduated in 1976, a first-generation college graduate in my family. I was commissioned as a distinguished ROTC graduate and returned to the Air Force as an officer.

This is the commissioning oath I took:

I do solemnly swear (or affirm) to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservations or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office upon which I am about to enter, so help me God.

And so I did.

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Over the next three decades, I saw a clear majority of the world and all the United States. I earned my Ph.D., spent 10 years and three different assignments in the Pentagon working at the highest levels of Department of Defense leadership, experienced a year in Greenland at Thule Air Force Base and was responsible for Johnston Atoll in the Pacific.

When Desert Storm took off in 1991, I was in the bar in the Officers Club at Moody Air Force Base, Georgia. As our unit had not had any real deployment experience, a different unit was sent overseas. Nevertheless, the folks left behind, including those who did not deploy and all family members, needed support and leadership, too. Our wing commander wanted “A” team members on the home front. I fought Desert Storm in Iraq from Moody AFB, Georgia.

During my USAF career, we moved 17 times, made many friends and worked with some of the best people America ever produced. Would I do it again? Absolutely. I am proud to have worn the uniform of our country to protect freedom, the Bill of Rights and all that our Constitution represents and embodies.

I never once hesitated or considered that I made a wrong decision to spend my first career in the Air Force. For me, it was a distinct privilege and high honor to serve the American people in the defense of our country. Even now, in my second career as a business consultant and university professor, I look forward to Veterans Day with immense pride.

President John F. Kennedy said, “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”

Won’t you please join me this Veterans Day and express your gratitude to all our veterans, near and far, active or retired, on earth or in heaven, for having lived by their words and kept our country free?

Joe Michels is a principal at Solomon Bruce Consulting LLC in Fort Worth.