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Our uniform means a lot to those who serve

MOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, Idaho -- The reality of my pending retirement really didn't hit me until the other day when I went to hang up my uniforms. I had just finished cleaning them earlier that day as part of my weekly routine -- wash, dry, hang on a hangar and put away. Done!

However, something caught my attention that particular afternoon as I looked over my assortment of blue shirts, matching pants and sets of utility uniforms hanging in the tiny closet. I'm not sure what prompted me, but I started to count off the days in my head before my retirement ceremony and my last official day in the office (both days were rapidly approaching). I then compared those numbers with the number of uniforms I just finished hanging up.

I immediately realized I wouldn't wear most of those uniforms again.

At that point, the effort to wash everything almost seemed pointless. After all, why invest so much care into something you don't plan to use? When I was much younger, I figured they'd end up in a large storage box in the attic only to be rediscovered by my grandchildren 10 or 20 years later.

From my perspective today, there isn't a simple answer to that question. After all, the uniform we wear isn't a bunch of cloth quickly stitched together. To a greater extent, it means something to a great number of people around the world.

Like the Stars and Stripes, the uniform is a symbol of freedom and democracy. To millions of people in places like Iraq and Afghanistan it means they have the best chance possible to restore peace and stability to their nations -- something we as Americans often take for granted. To nations stricken by natural disaster, it means hope, comfort and a chance to start over.

Every day that I choose to wear my uniform, I also know I'm probably driving some dictator in some corner of the world absolutely nuts. You know the ones I'm talking about. They're the ones that call us the "great evil" but have no reservations killing innocent people to promote their unholy cause. These tyrants know they don't have a chance to dominate the world as long as people like me wake up every morning and voluntarily put on this uniform.

Not for fame.

Not for fortune.

Not for ourselves.

We wear it for God, our country and our families.

Once I'm retired, I don't plan to pack away all my uniforms. I think I'll leave out one. Just one. It'll hang by itself in the tiny closet filled with my new wardrobe for my new career. The new clothes will signify my new beginning -- a fresh start.

The uniform will remind me how I got there.