Why I serve

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Shelley Heath
  • 552nd Maintenance Squadron
The question as to why I serve seemed to have an obvious answer at first. All the reasons that I told myself when I went to see the recruiter; education, travel, the chance to contribute something to my country; they seemed so clear. But then I started to really think about the question. Was that it, my entire logic process for signing up? Were those reasons the same as why I continued to serve? After all, there are other ways of accomplishing all of those items. So what was the root cause? In the end, I suppose that it all comes down to one simple thing -- I serve because I want to.

Education was one of those topics that I didn't really want to talk about. I was burned out after high-school and wanted nothing to do with the classroom environment. Travel seemed like the perfect alternative. But travel is incredibly hard to do without money, and money is definitely easier to get once you have an education.

I knew that I had to go to college at some point -- I just didn't want to right then. So, yes, I suppose that joining the military was a valid option to accomplish both of those. But while education can come from a classroom, it can also be obtained from experience. After joining the military I came to the rather abrupt conclusion that I would be educating myself for the rest of my life -- and what is more, I didn't mind it at all. A valid reason for joining, yes, but no longer something that would motivate me to re-enlist.

Service, in and of itself, has never been a question. All of my life it has been a reality that you incorporate into yourself. I watched as my father served on the local school board for a decade, and as my mother joined the local cancer awareness committee.

I was raised with the understanding that you find something that you care about, and you help to make it better. It doesn't matter if it is big or small, you do your part to make a difference. I didn't truly appreciate how much that mind-set had been built in until I left home and realized that most families don't spend a couple weeks out of summer vacation building homes for others or canvassing a neighborhood for a local politician or assisting the Christmas toy drive.

When you had free time, you went out and contributed to the community, and my parents still expressed the opinion that we could do more. Growing up, I never questioned that you did these things for your community at every available opportunity. So perhaps giving something back to the community, to the nation, was a bigger part of my initial decision than I had thought. I know for certain that it is one of the reasons that I continue to serve.

But why did I choose the military? There are so many ways to serve our country, what made me choose the Air Force? In the end, it was the idea that someone has to be the one to step forward. I could congratulate the brave Soldiers going over to Afghanistan, and I could argue about the legalities of entering Iraq. But when it came down to it, to that place where you know a decision must be made, I knew that I had to do something. Those men and women in Iraq were volunteers.

They had decided to risk their lives to defend our nation. Why wasn't I out there too? For the first time I found something that I could give back to the community, something that would help make a difference, and I knew that this was what I was going to do. Within the week, I went to see the recruiter and volunteered.

I suppose it doesn't matter if I joined the military for whatever reasons seemed good at the time.

The point is that I did decide to serve my country. My reasons have changed -- they will probably change again -- but for today, I serve because I know that I am making a difference. I serve because I can effect a change. I serve because we need a military to protect our freedom and because I can give back to the Airmen just entering the service. Somebody needs to step forward and volunteer, I see it every day, and every day I am one of the thousands that answer that call.