What motivates you to be a better Airman

  • Published
  • By Maj. Stacey Ferguson
  • 69th Maintenance Squadron
This year I had the privilege to attend the Experimental Aircraft Association Fly-In Convention at Oshkosh, Wis. It was such a thrill to spend a few days with thousands of fellow aircraft enthusiasts, all ogling over the latest and greatest technology in general aviation, as well as some beautiful old aircraft. My favorite part about Oshkosh was the awe inspiring collection of "War birds." Walking through the War birds area is a walk through military aviation history; fighters, bombers, and trainers from World War II are amply represented. As I walk through, admiring the aircraft, my eyes would often fall upon an aged gentleman, usually wearing a veteran's cap, looking up at the old radial engines and machine guns. I can't help but get a little nostalgic, thinking there won't be many more days for that particular gentleman to peruse the aircraft, or share his story with us.

What motivated that gentleman to risk his life in the greatest conflict of the modern world? For most, it was not a search for glory or monetary reward. Uncle Sam did his best to compensate the millions of service members for their service, though it was a mere pittance for the sacrifices they made. The ladies of the Women's Air Corps had one of the highest fatality rates of any who served in the War Department, yet they were afforded none of the benefits the Army Air Corps pilots earned. Why risk life and limb in foreign lands? I have heard the same explanation time and time again in a variety of different words; there was a duty that needed to be done, so why not me?

The greatest Air Force in the world is an all-volunteer force. As a commander, I am always thrilled and honored when one of my Airmen asks me to reenlist him or her. To them, it's often just a paperwork drill to serve another four to six years. To me, it's a moment to celebrate another Airman who has chosen to step up and do something hard, something most Americans these days wouldn't even attempt. An Airman in a maintenance squadron such as ours can expect long days working in inclement weather, lengthy deployments, and physically punishing work. It's not glorious work! For that reason, I take every opportunity I can to thank them for volunteering to do the hard work. Their efforts surely honor the sacrifice of those who have gone before us. When I show up to work, I think about the grandfather I never knew who served in the Navy in WWII. Would I make him proud? Have I lived up to the sacrifices he made?

We are facing a possible budget sequestration that could cut deep into our mission. As I tell the Airmen in my squadron, I can't get us more money, I can't get us more aircraft parts, I can't get us more people. It is that willingness to show up and do the hard work, with a volunteer attitude, that will keep us as the greatest Air Force in the world. If our grandfathers and great-grandfathers could win a world war on two fronts, with far less people than the enemy, surely we owe it to their legacy maintain the same volunteer spirit.

To all of our veterans from every decade, thank you from the bottom of my heart for your service. Please know that you have turned your Air Force over to a remarkable group of Airmen who will keep showing up to do the hard work, so you can rest easy at night. You, dear veterans, are my motivation to be a better Airman.