My father spent 21 years serving as a pilot in the United States Air Force. Yes, I guess that makes me an Air Force “brat.” That also makes my mom a military wife and my father a veteran. But looking back at the years spent waking up to my dad in a scratchy green flight suit walking out the door, singing the National Anthem at various ceremonies and having to make new friends at school every year, the lessons I learned gave me much more than a right to stand as “The U.S. Air Force” song is played.
It takes a village to raise you.
The adage “it takes a village to raise a child” not only makes sense in the Air Force, but it is a strictly followed rule by all involved. My afternoons as a kid were spent in sunburnt, muddy-footed idyllic bliss, running from Air Force base house to base house, from mother to mother until 5:30 was reached and the National Anthem played over the loudspeakers. No matter where we stood, no matter what we were doing, we dropped everything to place our hands over our hearts and sing along. This was a type of unifying dinner bell for our daily adventures, calling us back to our respective homes and families. There was no trip for groceries spent without seeing a familiar face, no squadron party or ceremony thrown without adults and children who quickly became a second family. The shared experience of military life connects you with teachers, Girl Scout troop leaders and the new family next door. I would not be the woman I am today without the influence of my Air Force community.
Be proud of who you are.
Life as a military child set me apart. I quickly learned that the life my family and I led was different than the life of my cousins or the other kids in church youth group. At first, my instinct was to feel isolated and unsure of what others thought because I was different. But, as I matured and learned more about what an honor it was to serve our nation, I grew more and more proud of my dad. When we stood to be recognized as a military family, I held my head high. When I looked over at Dad’s beaming face, I beamed right along with him. Just as it is a privilege, not a right, to live in our free nation, it is a privilege to be a part of a family that serves it.
Respect others and say “thank you.”
The Air Force base that I was raised on is full of gratitude. There was never a shortage of thank yous, supportive hugs or “get to know you” block parties. No good deed went unnoticed, whether it was watering a neighbor’s flowers or taking time to introduce yourself to a new family. “Thank you” came out with sincerity, and it came out often. At first, I didn’t understand what it meant when someone thanked my dad for his service. I thought that his job was just that — a job, and he went along with it like any lawyer, doctor or businessman would. It occurred to me after a few years that thanking him would never do him justice. We are undeserving of the amount of sacrifice given by my dad and thousands of others, yet it comes anyway. It is grace and self-sacrifice laid out for me, right in front of my eyes. The least I can do is say “thank you.”
This last lesson has perhaps been the hardest to learn. At times, I did not want to love my class of almost all new students, unfamiliar because my old friends had been stationed somewhere else over the summer. I did not want to love the Air Force for taking my dad away for weeks, months and even a year on end. Yet I found myself face-to-face with the most blatant and pure unconditional love. My parents, teachers and dear neighbors loved me with a zeal that I have not seen since. My mom, lonely for an entire year while her husband was stationed in Honduras, loved my sister and I relentlessly. My dad, overseas, tired and wishing to come home, loved us without fail. This was the gospel to me: an unending love that endured all things.
The Air Force was a picture-perfect representation of Christ — unwavering courage under that wild blue yonder, knowing that perfect love would cast out all fear. This Air Force daughter is forever grateful.