I follow a Facebook page called “USAF Retired”. It kinda goes without saying, I’m retired from the United States Air Force. The page usually has a lot of posts like, “How many of you were ever stationed at a base that was shut down while you were there?” Or, “What was your best/worst assignment?” Then there are the more focused questions like “Who worked on a flight crew for XXX aircraft?” Or… the list goes on and on with a lot of post about particular bases or certain jets that are no longer around. I hardly ever respond, but I enjoy skimming over the posts and comments every now and then. It takes me back in time just a bit.
Tonight there was a post that I thought I’d comment on. No big deal, or at least it didn’t seem like it at the time. The post asked, “What do you miss the most about the Air Force?”
Of course there were people who said they miss the flying, but let’s be honest. Once you leave the USAF, you don’t get to fly fighter jets anymore. Quite a few said they miss the traveling. A few less said they miss the chow hall. While military chow halls are not famous for great cuisine, I have a Navy buddy who swears that the Air Force chow halls are like 5 star restaurants compared to Navy dining. He needs to get over it. We’re the Air Force! One guy said he misses his youth. Yeah… we all miss that, but what can you do? A couple folks said they miss being in parades and open ranks inspections. I’m just going to presume that they’re being funny or they are in need help and I’ll leave it at that. Quite a few made comments about being proud and working hard, or team work, or about attitude and mission accomplishment. All good things that are common place in the USAF.
But far and away, by an overwhelming margin, people said the thing that they miss the most (described several different ways) is the camaraderie, and the military family and the Air Force community spirit. They miss knowing they could count on the people around them. They referred to military members as their brothers and sisters, or closest thing I ever had to brothers and sisters. They repeatedly said the words “Air Force family” and meant it in every good sense of the word. One guy perhaps put it the best when he wrote, “The friends is what I miss the most.”
And all this got me thinking just a bit. First I thought how many civilians might be surprised that none of them talked or even hinted about fighting wars. Not many war mongers in the US military. Fighting wars is what they do because it’s their duty, not their passion. The second thing I thought about was that even though the vast majority of civilians appreciate the military, they can’t really know what the USAF or US Military camaraderie is truly like any more than someone could know what it feels like to fly because they’ve read about it or watched it on TV. It’s a thing of beauty and words and pictures cannot do it justice.
Most of us left the military left without regrets and with little intention of looking back all that much. To be honest I don’t reflect on my Air Force days all that often. Life has been all right to me in the civilian world, but there is one thing I can say with absolute certainty. Nothing I have ever found in the civilian world has remotely compared to the sense of community my family and I found in the United States Air Force. If you had great neighbors then they became your great friends. If you had lousy neighbors, well, they were still part of the family and we looked out for each other. To be honest, there were not that many lousy neighbors. Great communities bring out the best in people. The funny thing is that most of us didn’t fully appreciate what an exceptional world we were part of until we left it. Knowing what I know now, I believe the US Military is the best of the best. They represent what we should aspire to be. They are a huge family who takes care of each other, not because they’re required to, but because it’s the right thing to do.
And every once in a while I look back without regret and perhaps with a little envy. Most of those young Airmen today, just like I was once upon a time, are laughing hard and working harder and playing hard and bonding with some of the best people they will ever know. They are living in a world filled with respect and honor, and they are making friendships that will last a lifetime. They are living in a world where almost everyone is contributing something good and looking out for their brothers and sisters. And one day years down the line they’ll stop and think about the camaraderie and military community and all their old friends, and they’ll feel a little tug on their heart. And they will know, you can’t really understand the spirit of the United States Military unless you were part of it