Are you available for duty?

BEALE AIR FORCE BASE, Calif., -- During my 22 year career I've picked up quite a few bits of advice, nuggets and M&Ms (mentoring moments) that have shaped my career, beliefs, and overall thoughts about why I serve and what it means to me. Some good, some bad but you learn from it all. About 18 years ago I stumbled across this story by an anonymous author and wanted to share with you all. It's pretty long but well worth the read.

A Chief Master Sergeant sat behind his desk down the hall from the Colonel. As the Chief prepared his second cup of coffee the Colonel stepped into the office. Chief the Colonel said, "I hate to ask, but you're needed on a 6-month deployment that leaves in 10 days. Can you go? With no emotion or hesitation the Chief replied "I put on my uniform this morning didn't I?"

The Colonel was somewhat shocked at the response, she thought to herself. "I've known the Chief a long time; he doesn't usually talk in riddles. Has this wise old protector of the enlisted corps gone off the deep end?" The Chief being a Chief picked up on her expression and began to explain himself. "Ma'am I made a promise to myself more than 20 years ago, that I would only put this uniform on as long as I'm available for duty. While it's obvious to most Air Force members, it seems to completely escape others.

'Available for duty' means more than negotiating or selecting only premium assignments or TDY's. It requires us to go any place in the world when directed, at any given time. It doesn't mean we shouldn't want or receive our preferences. It does mean we'll go when and where needed or called. This may seem overly simplistic, but I think everyone can agree: when it comes to defining 'service to our country' the answer is just that simple. In today's world of "What can you do for me?' it's very easy to lose sight of what 'service to country' is all about.

Service goes far beyond the individual; it affects the well-being of our nation. Sitting in comfortable surroundings, at your dream assignment, it's easy to forget the sacrifices we agreed to endure in service to our country. Being deployed to places like Afghanistan, Iraqi, Bosnia or maybe even Korea, the sacrifices become much clearer.

The bottom line is we are an all-volunteer force, and while our force has been significantly reduced over the last five years, it remains a highly mobilized, continually-tasked 'corporation'. Everyone is vital to its continued success."

The Chief continued by saying, "Our great Air Force will continue to go long after you and I are gone, the efficiencies of any one of its units may be adversely affected by the loss of only a few. We all have a responsibility to report our availability for duty. If there are underlying circumstances that preclude them from being available, they need to report them immediately, especially prior to deploying. If one member cannot or will not deploy when called upon, someone else has to fill that slot and that ripple is felt throughout the Air Force.

Sure everyone would like to be home for the holidays; I can't think of a single person that would enjoy missing their child's graduation. The pain felt with the loss of a loved one compounded by not being at their side in the final moments. Yes, we are all continually asked to make sacrifices. Still some forget that we are serving this great nation, and that this is an all volunteer force.

The Oath of Enlistment aren't just scripted words, the leadership of our country depend on us to be true to our word. No one ever said it would be easy. We need to continue to challenge ourselves each day. Everyday before getting into uniform we need to look into a mirror and ask, 'Am I available for duty?' If the answer is no, notify your supervisor, first sergeant or commander, then determine if your status it's temporary or permanent. From there you must make a difficult decision; should I resign, separate or retire? There are no gray areas. Everyone must decide for themselves." Finally the Chief looked at his commander, and said "Ma'am I put on my uniform today I'm available for duty. Do you still need a yes or no response?"

Serving in the world's greatest Air Force is no doubt difficult. Our Air Force leadership is intensely aware our military lifestyles create unique and sometimes difficult challenges for our members and their families and continue to focus on resiliency through the Comprehensive Airman Fitness program.

In addition to ensuring you are physically, mentally, socially and spiritually strong, it is your responsibility to take a look in the mirror, perform a self assessment and determine if you are "Available for duty".