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You are my heroes

Lt. Col. Stuart Rubio, 815th Airlift Squadron commander, prepares for a training flight at Keesler Air Force Base Jan. 26. The 815th AS, "Flying Jennies," have been steadily rebuilding since the decision to keep the squadron at Keesler was made in 2015. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Heather Heiney)

Lt. Col. Stuart Rubio, 815th Airlift Squadron commander, prepares for a training flight at Keesler Air Force Base Jan. 26. The 815th AS, "Flying Jennies," have been steadily rebuilding since the decision to keep the squadron at Keesler was made in 2015. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Heather Heiney)

KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. --

From one veteran to another, I want to thank you for your service and the sacrifices you have made for this great nation.

When I am thanked for my service, it reminds me of a recent conversation I had with my wife, who is a fellow Air Force Academy graduate who served on active duty for six years as an astronautical engineer.

The question I asked was, “Why do military members get singled out and thanked for simply doing our job?”

When you look at each aspect of what we do, when taken by itself, it is not unique.

Military duty can come with extended time away from home on temporary duties and deployments. Some other professions have to spend time away, such as international business men and women.

Military duty includes the possibility of being on-call at all times. And again other professions have on-call duties that they perform, medical professionals for one.

Military duty includes the possibility of being in life threatening situations. But we aren’t the only ones, police and fire fighters also put themselves in harm’s way.

We finally concluded that what makes those who have served, and those still serving, so special is the combination of all of these sacrifices and many more unnamed by both the service members and their family.

Each have agreed to give up a portion of their individuality in order to join something so much bigger than themselves or their family. And it is that “Service before Self” mentality that has me in awe of what all veterans have done for their country.

I truly understand that I am one of the lucky ones, because I have served in a time where my service is appreciated by the general public, and I know that not all veterans had that privilege during their service. That is why it is important to say to those veterans that our nation does appreciate everything you did and are thankful to you for your service.

I grew up in a suburb of Philadelphia, a city that has a reputation for being hesitant to welcome in outsiders, especially if you aren’t an Eagles, Flyers, Phillies, or 76ers fan. During the past few years I was given the opportunity to perform fly-bys of a few Phillies baseball games, and after we landed, we would rush over to the stadium to attend the remainder of the game in uniform. It was during these times that I was more and more proud of how my hometown welcomed my fellow Airmen as one of their own, simply based on their decision to serve their country.

But the most memorable example of appreciation that I have experienced was not in the United States, and it wasn’t directed to me. This experience occurred during one of the D-Day memorial events in Normandy, France where the 815th Airlift Squadron was participating.

While touring Pointe du Hoc with my wife, who met me in France, we saw a WWII veteran also touring the site. He was alone, sitting quietly and appeared to be introspective. We didn’t stop to bother him, but I was lucky enough to be nearby when a French man, probably in his 40’s, approached him and in broken English, with tears in his eyes, thanked him from the bottom of his heart.

This experience epitomized true appreciation of our veterans, because this man was clearly not alive during WWII or personally liberated by this American service member. But the sacrifices were so appreciated by this man’s family that the deep emotions on display were passed down through generations.

It is that moment that I reflect on when I am facing my own challenges, and I hope that you are able to do the same.

Remember veterans, that your nation is grateful and forever indebted to you for your service and sacrifice. That is why it is an honor for me to represent this nation now and thank each and every one of you for stepping forward and taking on the challenges of military service.

You are my heroes.