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United We Rise

HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. -- We honored the fallen on the 14th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the United States. Each year, we remember the innocent Americans who lost their lives in a senseless act of terrorism. The tradition of remembrance and mourning are important for many reasons.

However, I also mourn the loss of our amazing transformation into a unified nation. In the days after the attacks, we came together in a way that I had only experienced one other time in my life. We stopped being hyphenated Americans and were just Americans. Republican, Democrat, Independent…that didn’t matter. Race was irrelevant. Age, sex, gender; none of these mattered.

I will never forget when my tearful neighbor came over to thank me when all I did (without thinking about it) was immediately put up my US flag that terrible day. I was declaring to the world that I am proud to be an American, and I am willing to fight for my country. All throughout the country, people started doing the same thing. It was a mystifying and wonderful thing. We showed great respect for our military, fire fighters and law enforcement officers. After the fear subsided, we chose to unite and rise to fight our enemies. I still get goosebumps on my arms when I remember how the sleeping giant of America was awakened.

The other time I felt this incredible unification phenomenon was just after Operation Desert Storm. There aren’t many of us “seasoned” warriors who fought then and are still on active duty so I’ll rewind briefly for the majority of younger warriors. The U.S. and multiple allies united and rose to undo the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq’s dictator, Saddam Hussein. I flew in B-52 bombers out of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, with five of the finest Airmen the Air Force will ever know. When we came home, we were absolutely overwhelmed by the unbelievable joy and respect. We were showered with parades and ceremonies. My crew got the honor to fly right up to the Washington monument in the Washington D.C. parade. That was a magical time in our country as well. The American people united with incredible passion and purpose. We rose to the challenge with such incredible success that we had a hard time believing it.

But we should not have been so surprised. We have all heard that, “the whole is greater than the sum of the parts,” but we don’t spend enough time bringing our people together and bonding them as one. It’s too easy for us as leaders to focus on our daily taskings. We have so few resources now (compared to when we were double our current size during Desert Storm) that we sometimes feel like we can only survive the current mission at hand.

Most of us don’t expect to see a large increase in Air Force personnel any time soon. In the meantime, we need to do whatever small things we can to unify our people. Team building is critically important. We’ve all seen the 9/11 “United We Stand” stickers and posters. I would humbly suggest that it be modified to “United We Rise,” because when we come together, we don’t just stand…we rise to any challenge!