Fireworks and Freedom

  • Published
  • By Col. Patrick Doherty
  • 4th Fighter Wing commander
I have always loved Independence Day and the scenery of July 4 -- parades, kids with red, white and blue on their faces, celebrations, cookouts, sweet corn, family and friends getting together for rest, relaxation and the fireworks.

Ever since I was a kid, I could watch a firework show for hours and just think. Watching the explosions and rockets' red glare as our National Anthem describes, I have always been thrown back in time as I watch the splendor and reflect on the birth of our nation, the ideals our forefathers fought for -- life, liberty and the pursuit of happyiness. I have always thought of the sacrifices for the greater good, the loss of life, the struggles spanning nearly 25 years to form the United States of America more than 234 years ago.

I always come away from the fireworks wanting to say thanks, feeling blessed to be an American with our accompanying spirit, ideals, rights, responsibilities and yes -- freedoms. Understanding we are living in one of history's truly special times and locations of privilege, prosperity and democracy.

As we recently celebrated our independence, I truly understand how special and responsible Goldsboro, Wayne County, North Carolina, 916th Air Refueling Wing and the 4th Fighter Wing are to ensuring our freedoms are secured. Isn't that the way it always is? The only ones who truly understand the importance of what America represents are those trusted to defend her directly or the people who support those carrying out special responsibilities for our society. These individuals also possess insights and enlightenment of how special our country and ideals are in the context of recorded world history. Interestingly, it is this small percentage of our population who are the ones who understand the cruel lessons of history and the frailty of our democratic system and status in the world.

The concept of democracy -- the Greek word for "Power of the People" originated in the city-state of Athens near 500 B.C. and lasted nearly 350 years, ending with the Roman conquest of Greece. The Roman Republic also exercised a legitimate, recognizable form of democratic ideals for several hundred years until turning into a despotic regime. Those two lone examples are cited for the longest lasting democracies known to mankind and those two societies fought and struggled to survive as long as they did through thoughts and actions of sacrifice. That is it -- only Athens and the Roman Republic! Nearly 2,000 years go by in history with many attempts at democracy and just as many failures of sustaining a democracy -- until our founding fathers made their bold moves, tough calls and decisions to persevere and form the United States. We prevailed to the present day overcoming many internal and external struggles. Don't believe for a moment that our country's way of life is a God-given gift that doesn't need to be worked, earned and defended for future generations. We have protected our ideas of freedom via the efforts of Americans who volunteer to raise their rights hands and take an oath to support and defend our country's ideals and principles.

Those extraordinary Americans are our Airmen, civilians, families and the supporting role of Goldsboro's leaders and the community at large. It seems like yesterday when our F-15Es were rolling off the production line. Fast forward 23 years and today the world's greatest combat-proven aircraft requires a lot of attention, energy, resources and the world's greatest maintenance team to maintain the fleet in fighting shape. Believe it or not, the Strike Eagle is programmed to fulfill another 25 years of frontline fighter duty. In fact, the last maintainer to work on our F-15Es won't be born for another seven years. The tenacity, passion, blood, sweat and tears required of our Airmen to work the ramp and our other support missions is off the scales. Yet our organization, a preponderance of them are younger than our aircraft, has an unequaled perseverance and professionalism unmatched anywhere in today's combat air forces. Their daily, disciplined approach to the mission and desire to get the job done is motivating and sets my mind at ease as I look toward our future.

That being said, there is no room for the weak and timid in the 4th FW. Especially as we prepare for an air expeditionary force package to go forward again to Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, while at the same time prepare for an upcoming Phase I operational readiness inspection. We are in challenging times, indeed as the expectations of performance are driven by real-world contingencies and scenarios that require our forces to be at an unusually high state of readiness. Yet, I trust each and every member of Team Seymour to diligently work hard and be prepared for combat tomorrow or inspections in October. Daily technical order compliance and checklist discipline, with a keen eye on attention to detail while living with a sense of urgency and purpose, will be the pillars of our success in the future. There is no doubt the level of teamwork required to take on these challenges is high, but members of the 4th FW have always stressed teamwork again and again during our 70-year history.

There is an old President Calvin Coolidge quote that describes the keys to our future success as a team: "Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan 'press on' has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race."

It is our daily efforts to better ourselves and our team that will propel us to achieve excellence both in the near and long term, securing our democracy and way of life for many generations to come. On behalf of a grateful nation, I thank you for your efforts, excellence and dedication you bring to the fight each and everyday.