Called To Service

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Max J. Daigle
  • 52nd Fighter Wing

“Happy Veterans Day! Thank you for your service!”

It’s the type of message I get every year on this day from family and friends, including a few that wore the uniform themselves. I used to not think much of those messages besides a few musings that I didn’t really deserve them. After all, I wasn’t really a veteran since I was still active duty, and even if I was, I hadn’t done much I thought fit the criteria for ‘real’ service.

Many of the fellow service members I’ve spoken with on the topic share a similar sentiment, especially younger troops like myself. But as the world, our country, and my life have all changed over the past few years, I’ve taken up a very different perspective on the matter.

Veterans Day has its origins in Armistice Day, which was first observed by a proclamation from President Woodrow Wilson in 1919 and first observed as a federal holiday in 1938. Armistice Day was held to recognize the anniversary of the end of armed conflict during World War I, November 11th, and to memorialize those who died during the war. In the 1940s, a World War II veteran named Raymond Weeks began what would become a nationally popular campaign to celebrate Armistice Day for all veterans, and in 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed legislation officially replacing “Armistice” with “Veterans” in the holiday’s name.

Decades later, the same support for veterans that gave rise to the holiday is still in place. According to a Pew Research Study, much of the general public perceives the veteran community as one their fellow Americans look up to. A Rand Corporation survey panel says the vast majority of Americans support more care and benefits for veterans. Veterans as a demographic, which for a good portion of the public encompasses both those who’ve served and still do serve, enjoy a popularity across the width and breadth of the American populace very few other groups of people can claim.

So why do we curry so much favor among our countrymen? The answer is service, of course, but there are a plethora of other ways to be of service to our society. The selflessness of our duty is what makes it unique. We all had different personal reasons for joining, but no matter the branch they’ve joined or primary duties they have taken on, every man and women who has ever worn the uniform has taken an oath to an unyielding duty to their country, a creed to stand up for the principles and people of our nation when they are threatened. It’s not a commitment just anyone can make; it’s a promise that is truly exceptional, and one we have fulfilled time and time again.

However, our military duty alone is not enough to uphold our country's values and way of life. Americans cherish the veteran community because we defend and have defended the rights and liberties we are promised, but like anything worth protecting, the fight to protect them extends far beyond physical combat. They may be promised, but they are not guaranteed, and they will fade if they are not earned. If the history of democracy both at home and abroad teaches us anything, it’s that the existence of a free society is merited by how its people conduct themselves in community.

It is a truly extraordinary undertaking to be of the service needed to maintain these freedoms, but no one better understands how to devote themselves to such service than us as veterans. We have been equipped with skills like leadership, discipline, organization, and teamwork. We are inspired to play an active role in the community of our installations. We have been imbued with a deep sense of duty to our country. And, perhaps most importantly, we understand what it’s like to be a part of something greater than ourselves. Whether you have fulfilled your military commitment or still wear the uniform, we are all ideal candidates to be the volunteers, civil servants, and citizen leaders' American society needs.

Nothing about the kind of service our society calls for needs to be grandiose. We can make a tremendous impact just by volunteering to help our local communities, wherever they may stand. We can be the change we want to see by staying informed on the issues and using the representation we’ve fought so hard for to vote, organize and advocate for what we hold dear (within the restrictions of our military obligations for those of us still in the service). And we can inspire those around us to be upstanding and engaged themselves through our humility and how we treat those around us. Many of them will never see what we’ve done or what we do in the course of our military service first-hand, but they will always see what we do when we go about our lives in their neighborhoods. Our collective values stem from our actions, both intentional and passive, and with the weight of the title of veteran amongst our fellow citizens, we can inspire them through our own act to be the best citizens they can be.

This Veterans Day, when I get those messages thanking me for my service, I won’t think about what I’ve done to deserve that gratitude. I’ll think about what I can do, both in and out of uniform, to pay it forward. The uniform itself is not what earns that respect; it is the service I have committed to that has. Let us all as veterans and one-day-to-be veterans embrace this service. When we speak about our oath not expiring, let’s show that through our duty to making the communities we’ve defended and continue to defend stronger. Let’s not end our service when we take off our uniform, but rather make it the beginning of a calling to give our all in service to our nation.