Why Did You Join The Military?

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. David B. Etheredge, 117 OSS Commander
  • 117th Operations Support Squadron

I have been asked this question many times over the years, mainly by those outside the military, so I decided to ask others in this Wing why they joined the Guard or Active Duty.  The top reasons that I got were:

·         A calling to serve or patriotism

·         Adventure

·         Travel

·         Education benefits

·         Unparalleled training in a chosen career field

·         Several jokingly mentioned the 10 percent discount at Home Depot. Hopefully this is more of a benefit than a reason to join.

Like many others, my answer is a combination of many factors. My father served in the Army Reserves for 23 years, so I grew up having a “Weekend Warrior” father that was gone one weekend a month and two weeks a year. Since I joined in 1993, I have seen the Air National Guard go from a part-time force used to augment active-duty personnel to a force that now accomplishes the majority of combat air-refueling operations. Since 9/11, the tempo of operations has increased significantly and there is no respite in sight. Today’s tempo is the new “normal”.

While answering this question, I realize that most civilians don’t actually know anyone who serves in the military, and don’t realize what is required to serve and the sacrifices involved.  Including active duty, National Guard and reserves, the population of Americans in uniform is 2,317,761. That is less than one percent of the country's population that is currently a member of the military. Most people in Birmingham don’t even know that we have a base here.

Whatever your reasons for serving, we all sacrifice to be a member of the world’s most powerful, all-volunteer military. It requires spending time away from friends and family, enduring numerous deployments, as well as training continuously to stay proficient in our chosen career fields. Drill weekends, for some reason, always seem to have the best weather and inevitably conflict with a major family gathering or sporting event. It’s been said many times that military service is harder on the family members than on the service member. This is has been my experience too, and the increased operations tempo is taking its toll on our military. The constant deployments, computer based training, and other ancillary training requirements are putting a strain on retention.  However, be assured that commanders at all levels are pushing back on any requirement that doesn’t have value, or detracts from our core mission. 

The reasons to serve in the military of today are many, and the sacrifices involved are even greater. Whether you work in operations, maintenance, mission support, medical or intelligence, we all work together to fly, fight and win.  

Whatever your reasons were for enlisting, I thank you for your service.