JOINT-BASE SAN ANTONIO-Randolph, Texas --
“Thank you for your service.”
How does it feel when you’re in uniform and hear those words? We take those words for granted. It always makes me feel a little awkward. I don’t really know how to reply. Most often, I reply with a simple “thank you” and a half-hearted smile. I know that a “thank you for your service” is not just for me but for the military service. There is something about the sacrifice of military service that inspires people. I believe that true service has a self-sacrificial element. True service challenges others to dig deeper.
Last October, I was in the midst of planning an epic 96th Flying Training Squadron float trip down the Devils River in west Texas. The trip was less than a month away, Nov. 4, when my co-worker asked if anyone would join him in Aransas Pass, Texas for a weekend to assist in the Hurricane Harvey recovery effort.
Aransas Pass is a beach community near Corpus Christi that sustained a nearly-direct hit by Hurricane Harvey last August. I decided to take a break from trip planning and join him. When we arrived, we were startled by the devastation. The twisted limbs of centuries-old oak trees lay about the ground in mangled heaps, and everywhere we looked, there were houses with 6-foot-high mounds of sodden debris on the front lawns.
We showed up with a trunk full of tools, some work gloves, and an eagerness to start mucking out houses… but it wasn’t quite that simple. Without a plan, a place to sleep, or a clue where our next meal was coming from, we needed about as much help as the people we came to serve. We were taken in by a generous group called All Hands Volunteers. The gymnasium they were based out of was filled to capacity with volunteers from around the country, many of whom left their jobs, their families, and their life goals to come serve. Some were there for months. They squeezed their beds together to make room for two more cots. They filled us with a hot meal, gave us T-shirts, and welcomed us as part of their team. I felt true service that day.
The next day, a group of eight of us met Happy, a retired outdoorsman in his 70s. Happy rode out the hurricane while a 4-foot storm surge rushed through his house. He saved his handicapped wife by putting her on the top bunk. He later told me, “She’s got dementia and can’t remember that night, and it’s a good thing, too, or she would have left me a long time ago.”
In eight hours, we completely gutted his house. He was right beside us all day, laughing off his misfortune while helping us toss out his life’s treasures, and keeping our spirits high with his sense of humor. I saw true service in Happy that day, too.
We spent only three days in Aransas Pass. The last day we were there was a Monday. All Hands Volunteers take Mondays off. We had planned on working a half day and then driving home, but honestly, the two days had wiped us out, and we decide to get home a bit early. Not so for Joe, a construction worker from Pennsylvania. Joe had been in Aransas Pass since early September and was among the veteran volunteers with the All Hands group. Early that Monday morning, I awoke to the low rumble of a gymnasium full of snoring people catching up after a long week. As I lay, warm in my cot, I saw the flicker of Joe’s head lamp. I watched as he laced up his mud-caked boots, grabbed a bucket of tools, and headed back out in the field. I saw true service in Joe that day.
True service is invigorating. When I got back to Del Rio, I canceled the canoe trip.
Fourteen “Boxing Bunny” paddlers went to Aransas Pass instead. True service inspires others to serve.
The next time someone thanks you for your service, smile big and remember that true service is addictive and contagious. Remember that just like Joe, Happy, and the All Hands Volunteers, it is through acts of sacrificial service that our armed services have earned those thanks. The next time someone thanks you for your service, perhaps you will find some motivation to dig a little deeper and rise to the challenge.
Editor’s Note: Our thanks to Maj. Jacob Hostettler, 96th Flying Training Squadron T-6M flight commander, who agreed to share his thoughts after he and his teammates traded a long-planned river rafting vacation for days slogging through the mire and muck in Aransas Pass to help Hurricane Harvey victims recover.