Service Before Self

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- With Memorial Day only a few days past, it seems appropriate to talk about “service before self,” the most misunderstood Air Force Value. I was already on active duty when the Air Force created the Core Values. At that time, many of us thought, “Well, it’s official now, the Air Force is more important than my family or me.”

This year marks the 21st anniversary of our Core Values, and in those years I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on the Core Values. Now I have a totally different perspective than I did in 1995. “Service before self” isn’t about what’s more important, it’s about sacrifice.

Think about “service” or the act of serving others. There’s an infinite number of ways you can serve others. You can help a community outreach group that seeks to improve the lives of the economically less fortunate, such as Habitat for Humanity or the Springs Rescue Mission. You might serve your neighbor by cooking a meal in time of need.

Churches provide a variety of ways to serve others from teaching opportunities to missions in foreign lands. Some people choose to serve by spending their time on a worthy cause, while others choose to serve that same cause with their checkbooks. Regardless of how you choose to serve others, your service involves a sacrifice. If you are serving others, you are sacrificing an important resource … perhaps a sacrifice of time, perhaps a sacrifice of money, perhaps something else of value.

For those who wear the uniform of the U.S. Armed Forces, that sacrifice is unique and much more personal. No other type of service involves the sacrifice required from the men and women in uniform and their families. When new Airmen transfer into the 21st Mission Support Group, I never know if they requested to be at Peterson or if they wanted to be somewhere far away, doing something very different.

The great thing about the Air Force is that Airmen will accomplish astonishing things regardless of what they wanted to do, or where they wanted to be. The Air Force gave them a mission at Peterson, and I know they’ll give that mission everything they’ve got. It’s very likely during their tour of service here, that our Airmen will deploy far away, and sometimes to locations where people want to harm them. Beyond the Armed Forces, what other type of service requires such a sacrifice?

Repeatedly, our families share the sacrifices. Our spouses often give up their careers, our children usually live far from grandparents, and frequently our loved ones have to sacrifice for months while their Airmen serve U.S. interests in far off places.

Our families bear this burden not because the Air Force is more important, but because they know the value of this sacrifice. If we are unwilling to fight against terrorists and violent extremists, then our children will be forced to fight this war against a stronger enemy. Our parents and grandparents who served in the Armed Forces understood this concept of “service before self.”

It is in honor of their sacrifice - which we remember on Memorial Day - that we continue to fight for freedom around the world.