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The call to duty we hear every day

MOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, Idaho -- I can remember as a little boy when my dad would tell me stories of his service during World War II. He had enlisted in the Navy in 1943 at the height of the war as did so many other people. By then he was already 33 years old but he heard the call to duty.

After enduring a very short basic training he was off to the Pacific Ocean and became a seaman on a troop transport. I remember one story in particular.

Each man on the ship had to take turns manning the anti-aircraft gun on the forward deck. It was the ship's only defense against the Japanese Zeros. It must have been terribly frightening for the men because apparently they had to be chained to the gun to keep them from abandoning their post under attack. He served for two years taking part in much of the Pacific island hopping campaign, including the invasion of the Philippines and General MacArthur's return.

These stories and those of my uncle Earl, who also served in the Navy in World War II on a submarine shaped my early years more than I understood. I thought of military service as the most noble thing anyone could do for their family, friends and nation. When it came time for me to graduate from high school, I knew I wanted to attend college, but there was really no way to pay so I did what I could, I looked for scholarships and I learned about the Reserve Officer Training Corps. Luckily, I found myself accepted in the Air Force program and I received a means to an end. What I didn't know then is how the Air Force would shape my values, my goals, and my entire life.

Twenty years after college I look back and see how different my situation was from the young men and women who volunteer to serve today. For the past nine years young Americans swore an oath to serve their nation during time of war. Just like millions of Americans who volunteered along with my father these young men and women answered the call to duty and for some, even the call to sacrifice everything in defense of our freedom. I am awed every time I consider the willingness Americans always have to defend justice, protect freedom and fight for our unique way of life.

Serving in the Air Force instilled a deep sense of duty in me. I began to understand that the life we have in the U.S. is a privilege given to us by the generations before that fought and sacrificed. All too often I saw people take for granted the freedom, prosperity and happiness that is abundant in the U.S. It is now our duty to carry on the fight keep our nation free from terror, free to choose our way of life, and free to enjoy the blessings we all experience.

Today hundreds of Gunfighters are deployed to Afghanistan, Iraq and around the world continuing to protect our uniquely American way of life. The days of four-month deployments to relatively safe locations are long gone as we send people for 179 days and more to hostile combat environments. The sacrifices in time alone are tremendous as many people have deployed five or six times since September, 2001. Even more, Gunfighters have sacrificed their life in defense of our nation such as Technical Sergeant Walter M. Moss Jr., an Explosive Ordnance Disposal Craftsman, who died March 29, 2006. While deployed to Iraq, Technical Sergeant Walter was killed while disarming an improvised explosive device.

The generation of American men and women that fought in World War II, like my father, were called "The Greatest Generation" but I believe that same name so correctly describes the men and women who serve today and served for the past nine years. Less than one percent of our citizens serve in the military today and those who do are willing to sacrifice their time, their treasure, and some even their lives. These selfless gifts of service inspire me every day to be part of something far greater than I could have ever been by myself.

This is the call of service we all answered. This is the call to duty we hear every day. We are all Airmen and part of the Gunfighter Team whether military or civilian. We Gunfighters share a common goal with every American: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. As we pause in the next week to celebrate our day of independence let us all remember that freedom is not free and that we must continue to answer the call to serve our nation.