Make it Back Alive: Entering the Threat Ring of Summer

  • Published
  • By Col. Patrick Doherty
  • 4th Fighter Wing commander
Originally called Decoration Day, Memorial Day has evolved over the years since the 1870s, but the true intent of the day has never changed -- a day of remembrance for those who have died in our nation's service. As such, when you were a young kid you probably saw your grandparents and families putting flowers upon headstones of patriots who paid the ultimate sacrifice to ensure our freedoms, prosperity, and way of life as Americans were defended here at home and across the globe. You might remember Memorial Day parades would often bring thousands of flags waving as a long procession of fire engines, horses, clowns, high school bands, classic cars, Boy Scouts and local politicians. Yet it was the last group of people who seemed to deliver the finale of the parade, as everyone in the crowd would stand up and give a standing ovation as a very proud group of elderly men and women would march in formation (some in wheelchairs) with a mix match of uniforms, medals and funny caps on top of their heads. They would salute you proudly and continue without missing a beat.

You might recall gathering after the parade at the town square, or at city hall as these veteran's of previous wars would produce a speaker from their ranks who talked of experiences and sacrifices made by his peers during combat. At the end, the veteran would explain the importance of America, our flag, and our freedoms in which the world envies, desires and looks up to for leadership. He spoke from a position of experience, wisdom and true understanding, as applauses would occasionally, and spontaneously, erupt due to the heartfelt message. He spoke from a perspective of someone who saw evil, tyranny and the dark places of the world first hand. At the end of the speech, you couldn't help but feel a part of something special, something bigger than yourself, your family or your town. You felt proud to be an American!

Have things changed with Memorial Day? Is this type of patriotism across America a thing of the past? Absolutely not. I have been blessed throughout my career to have the opportunity to live in many different states and great communities across our great nation from west to east and north to south and I have been witness to the same levels of excitement, patriotism, sincere gratitude and words of thanks toward our military servicemembers, none greater than Goldsboro, Wayne County and North Carolina.

I still remember leaving a wing status meeting prior to a Memorial Day weekend years ago and the wing commander asked a few of us what our plans were for the weekend. The responses varied from gathering together for a neighborhood party or cookout, enjoying good times at the beach, golfing or boating at the lake. Bottom line, the plans were focused on gathering together with family and friends and having some fun in the sun for the summer's first three-day weekend. His response was forceful, serious and to the point, "Make sure everyone makes it back from the weekend alive!" His answer sliced through the once-fun-filled conversation with an odd mix of skill and piercing force that stunned the entire group, leaving everyone speechless and searching for a way out of the conversation and the room.

Fast forward to present day and I find myself in the position of wing commander and approaching the Memorial Day weekend and the impending summer with fatherly concern and a commander's care for our team of Airmen and their families, just as my previous commander felt and articulated in a unique way. There is no doubt, Memorial Day weekend ushers in a season of fun and relaxation, school dismissals, and vacations with family and friends. I wish everyone a great weekend and summer. You all work very hard and you deserve some rest and relaxation. But, the old adage of "work hard, play hard" does not cut it anymore. I want you to play safe and play smart.

I ask you to take a moment this weekend and reflect and think about our proud veterans, what we have as Americans, why we are here at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base and what our nation is expecting from us, realizing everyone is sorely needed on the team and we could not accomplish the mission without you.

Be prepared and have a good plan, always remembering to maintain mutual support with a wingman who knows how to make good decisions and intervene boldly when he or she sees something going poorly. Steer clear of excess, extreme and destructive behavior and ensure someone is the designated thinker as well as the designated driver. Our decision making as Airmen off duty has to be just as disciplined as when we are on duty. I pray, hope and expect "everyone to make it back from the weekend alive" this weekend and throughout the entire summer. Thanks again for wearing the uniform and serving your nation. We need everyone back and ready to go.