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‘Thank you for the great ride’

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- My wife Lori and I recently vacationed in Orlando, Fla. with our 10-year-old and 8-year-old nephew and niece. Of course, when you go to Orlando and are accompanied by small children, you have to spend time at one, if not all, of the Disney theme parks. Despite their ages, neither our nephew, Christian, nor his sister, Ashley, wanted to spend time in the small children's amusement areas. No, they love riding roller coasters.

In fact, those two had no fear when it came to these fast-moving, teeth-shaking, sweat-inducing machines. Unfortunately, I did not share their enthusiasm but I could not disappoint them. I found myself standing in a 45-minute line, wondering if I would make it through the ride without throwing up. With my retirement fast approaching waiting in line gave me time to reflect on my life (and how it would soon flash before my eyes). I recalled first entering the gate of Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, more than 29 years ago. The fear and excitement I felt then as I began my new career were the same feelings I experienced the closer we moved to the front of the line to ride this roller coaster.

But, I knew 29 years ago, just like I knew in that line, there was no turning back. The best thing for me to do was to jump on, strap in and enjoy the ride ... and wow! After I caught my breath, wiped the sweat from my brow, and pulled myself away from the nearest trash can, I yelled out "Wow! That was an amazing ride!" I shout that now about my Air Force career! What a ride it has been for me and for my family.

I could not have had a better career. From my many years serving in the Air Force Medical career field, to being a part of the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology Forensic team, to serving as a wing, and now center, command chief, I have been blessed to serve our country alongside our nation's best sons and daughters. Be it inside or outside the wire, providing expeditionary combat support or producing aircraft for the warfighter, it is because of you Big "A" Airmen (officers, enlisted and civilians) that the United States of America has the greatest Air Force mankind has ever seen. America stands stronger than ever because of the sacrifices you and your families make every day. What amazes me most is that you do not consider them sacrifices but a part of your job, your mission and your duty.

Like a roller coaster, Lori and I have traveled at white-knuckle speed to multiple assignments all over the world. We have experienced ups and downs, highs and lows. We have enjoyed pizza in Italy, snorkeling in the East China Sea, drinking Singapore Slings in Singapore, and shopping in Hong Kong (too much shopping in Hong Kong). We have celebrated at promotion ceremonies, looked forward to Airman Leadership School graduations (our built-in date night) and jumped for joy when Airmen experienced the birth of a new child. We have "Lived, Laughed and Loved" our time in the Air Force.

Conversely, we have also planned meal schedules for ailing families, endured long periods of separations, stood together comforting others and wept, as we witnessed the professionalism of our military guardsmen as they honored fallen heroes returning to American soil for the last time.

As this roller coaster of our Air Force career comes to a halt and we jump off, how do we say farewell to the Airmen? To the Air Force that has given us so much? To a community that has been so gracious? To a mission that I love and in many ways defines me? This is perhaps the most difficult part of what awaits me on March 28, 2014, my final day as the Air Force Sustainment Center Command Chief. It is a very rare occasion when I am at a loss for words. So to the Airmen, my commanders, my supervisors, my mentors and our Air Force Family I offer just two: THANK YOU.

(Editor's note: Chief and Mrs. Vegas' retirement ceremony will be held at 2:30 p.m. March 28 in Rose State College's Communication Center. All are welcome to attend.)