Why I serve

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Michelle Vickers
  • 1st Special Operations Wing Public Affairs
As a young girl I was a captive audience for my grandpa Ross' stories. He would recall the one-room schoolhouse he attended in such vivid detail I could feel myself sitting on a long wooden bench using an abacus to add and subtract. My aging grandfather loved storytelling so much he even sent me lengthy accounts of Illinois farm life he meticulously typed out however, there was one topic he was tight-lipped about.

Like many men of his generation, Ross never elaborated on his military service in World War II. The United States entered WWII while my grandpa was in college studying to be a math teacher. This could have kept him out of the war or he could have waited and been commissioned as an officer. Instead he chose to promptly enlist. According to the only anecdote my grandpa ever told related to the war, he tried to join what was at the time the Army Air Forces, but they wouldn't take him. His red/green color blindness excluded him, so in his words he was stuck with his second choice of joining the Navy. After the attacks on Pearl Harbor the whole country hastened to mobilize to support the war effort.

I couldn't imagine a time period where so many people selflessly chose to serve their country. Then as I sat in my 7th grade English class the world changed. The day was Sept. 11, 2001 and I was in the middle of presenting a poem when a teacher strode into our class to inform our teacher that a plane had struck the World Trade Center. Though the other teacher didn't intend for the whole class to hear, we did and rumors began to spread like wildfire as to what this meant for us. Once word circulated around school that the Pentagon had also been hit the environment in school went from confusion to panic.

My school was located just outside the border of the D.C. and several students had parents who commuted to work at the Pentagon. Students with cell phones frantically attempted to reach their parents, but phone towers were overloaded and no calls were going in or out. Many just sat silent in uncertainty with the bell ushering them from class to class. Like a military installation, the administrators established lock-down so no one came in or out of the building except through a checkpoint where parents were identified. Many distraught parents rushed to the school to just take their kids home. Home was the only place that felt safe for many of us. We didn't know it at the time, but over 3,000 people lost their lives in the attacks that day.

Beginning on 9/11 the feeling, even among young students, was fear. There were other threats that followed in the form of anthrax attacks and home grown terrorists like the D.C. snipers. Despite the fear that developed after the attacks on American soil, another feeling that permeated the country was the same call to serve that my grandpa's generation had experienced after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Many Americans chose to act instead of merely living in fear. With my mind on those who lost their lives on 9/11 and how I could best help my country, I followed in my grandpa's footsteps to enlist. I like to think he would be proud that this time I got to serve in the same branch he would have chosen, the U.S. Air Force.