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Serving: not only my duty, but also my privilege

  • Published
  • By Capt. Joe Simms
  • 927th Air Refueling Wing/Public Affairs
I am 37 years old and my biggest regret in life is that I didn't go to the White Stripes concert in Birmingham Alabama in 2008, and now they aren't touring together anymore. What does that say about me? Have I lived charmed life, or are my priorities way out of whack? I'll let others decide that but I do know that for as long as I can remember I've tried to take advantage of every opportunity that comes my way and I encourage every Citizen Airman to do the same.

As Citizen Airmen we are given the great opportunity to live our lives as a civilian and serve our country at the same time. My challenge to every airman is to take full advantage of that. Get out of your comfort zone. Try something difficult. You might fail, you might succeed but either way you will learn something about yourself.

I left Irmo, SC in June of 1996, five days after graduating high school, for Lackland Air Force Base Texas, and basic military training. Would it have been easier to spend the summer at the lake with my friends before I left for college? Yes, but that foray into the unknown taught me that there is a big old world out there with plenty to see and do, and I wanted to do all of it.

When I deployed for the first time I was a naïve 24 year old Technical Sergeant that had no idea what I was getting into when the call came to me in the command post and said, "You need to come to the commander's office, you're leaving on a bus in 48 hours." Within a week I went from my comfortable under-furnished apartment to living in a tent, in bare base conditions and proceeded to eat MREs for a month until services was able to provide a dining facility. In those few months in the winter and spring of 2003 I learned a lot about myself, and the lessons I learned about leadership, perseverance and teamwork have prepared me for the next journey I'm about to embark on.

As I prepare for my second deployment and near my 20 year mark as a Citizen Airman, I think back to what brought me here and what keeps me going. What I didn't realize at the time was soon after I returned home in 2003, I would be chasing that feeling of comradery and personal and professional accomplishment for the next 12 years. It's that desire to serve, to share experiences with others, and to achieve a common goal, that's what drives me.

In the past few weeks, when I tell people I volunteered for this deployment, I've noticed the look on their face, like they're thinking, "Why would you volunteer when you don't have to go?" Because it is an opportunity to experience something that less than one percent of the United States can say they have ever done. And those experiences, I believe, are what make life worth living.

As I look forward to this deployment, my focus will not only be on my own personal and professional growth, but the airmen that I'm there to lead. It will be my job to make sure the mission is done, but also to ensure these airmen leave the deployed environment with the same feeling of accomplishment, satisfaction, and pride I had when I returned home as a much more mature and confident 24 year old.

I owe them that because Master Sgt.(now Chief) Jay Mosely, retired Chief Master Sgt. Michael Hunt, and Col. (now Lieutenant General) Syd Clark provided that environment for me.

So when someone asks, "Why are you volunteering?" I tell them because it's my duty, and more importantly my privilege, to take advantage of this opportunity the Air Force Reserve has given me. And it's my job to ensure those around me understand how fortunate we are to be able to serve, and years from now they can look back on their career and never have to say, "I wish I would have..."