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Why we do this to ourselves?

  • Published
  • By Col. Michael Higginson
  • 940th Mission Support Group commander
It's 4:45 a.m. Saturday morning of a unit training assembly weekend and you're the only one awake in your house. You hit the start button on the coffee maker, shower and put on your uniform. You give your spouse or significant other a peck on their still-asleep face, fill up your to-go cup with coffee and hit the road.

Your friends are all still in bed. The only reason they'd be up this early is to go fishing or hunting. But you're going to drive an hour and a half, sign in, run a mile and a half, get a typhoid shot, take a career development course test, go to a commander's call, attend a training session or two, work at your duty station for several hours, sign out and drive back home.

Sunday is going to be pretty much the same, and then you roll right into Monday and you're headed back to the civilian job. And on top of all that, if you haven't recently deployed for an extended period of time, chances are good that you will soon. So, why are you doing this to yourself? Money? Fame and glory? Probably not….

The answer to the "why?" in a reservist's life is probably a little complex. We do what we do for a combination of reasons that usually adds up to an answer that is larger than the sum of its parts.

We usually enjoy the field we serve in; Security Forces folks usually like law enforcement, pilots like flying, etc... We usually like the people we work with in our reserve assignments. They are a separate set of friends from our civilian friends and, hey, the more friends the better.

We are generally proud of the work we do and it makes us feel good. We can see the results of our labor and it gives us a feeling of worth.

Our civilian friends often admire us for our dedication and we all like admiration. And, yeah, they do pay us something (albeit, some more than others and often not enough), and don't forget the typhoid shots are free.

But I think the real answer to the "why?" is often very private and much more noteworthy. I can sum it up for myself with this quick anecdote about my dad.

Dad was a Kentucky boy and former coal miner who joined the Army Air Corp during World War II. He worked in aircraft maintenance his entire 30-year career and retired as a Chief Warrant officer. Dad was one of only 17 CWO4's remaining in the Air Force at that time.

After he retired he began to suffer terribly from Alzheimer's or dementia. When I took him golfing for the last time, he had reached the point in his disease where he didn't even recognize me, his oldest child. Dad was 80 years old at the time, three years before his death.

At the pro shop on this last father-son golf outing, I paid both of our green fees and started for the first tee. As I walked away from the counter, my dad opened his old wallet and took out the twenty dollar bill my mom always made sure he had with him. He gave it to the clerk who had just taken my money.

The clerk told my dad, "Your friend has already paid for your golf." My dad looked at the clerk as he handed him his twenty and said, "I want you to take this and buy a new American flag. The one you're flying out front is faded and ragged and when you fly that flag, you should fly it right."

Well, I retrieved Dad's twenty from the dumbfounded clerk on the way out, but we were only able to stumble and fumble our way through three holes of golf before we called it quits. But that morning my beautiful old man, who didn't even recognize his own son or the game he had loved for 50 years, did somehow remember the wonderful pride he felt for the flag that represented his country.

This story makes it a little easier for me to hit the button on that coffee maker on a UTA morning. I also think it helps explain why many of us continue to do this work. My dad would be proud of all of our Citizen Warriors and he would thank you as I am.