Remembering why we serve

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Victor Moncrieffe
  • 31st Security Forces Squadron commander
In the summer of 2006 while assigned to the U.S. Air Force Academy, I met a young man who reinforced the reason why I serve. I was about to enter an elevator when he and his mother, an instructor at the academy, walked in preparing to ascend to the upper floors of the academic building. The mother introduced me to her son and I could already size him up as an upright young man who was a poster child for military service.

As I shook his hand, he informed me that he was about to graduate high school and was contemplating a life in uniform. I took the opportunity to try to recruit the young man into the Air Force and that's when I learned that he came from a proud military family as both his parents were serving or had served in the military. His mother explained that her son wanted to join the Army as his father did and I could tell he was excited about the opportunity of serving as well. However, by the expressions on the mother's face, I could also tell she had concerns about her son's plans of service. She knew we were a nation at war and there was no doubt in her mind that her son would do his part.

As we stopped at the designated floor, I once again shook this young man's hand, reminded him that the Air Force was still hiring, but ultimately wished him the best of luck in his future endeavors. His smile and firm hand shake said it all. On Sept. 5, 2007, the news spread that a child of an Air Force Academy instructor had been lost to an improvised explosive device attack in Iraq ... it was the young man I had met in the elevator almost a year ago, killed in action at 19 years old.

Although very difficult for me, out of respect, I attended the wake and stood in line to provide my condolences to the family ... it was a closed casket. When it was my turn, the mother saw me and immediately screamed out "You know, you know" repeatedly as I embraced her and shared in her grief. In the five-minute meeting inside the elevator she knew that I could tell what kind of man her son was and to what lengths he would go to serve his country. She knew that I knew that her son didn't serve for prestige, money, or medals, but did what thousands of young men and women across our nation do every day ... serve the greater good.

To this day, the picture of Spc. Dane R. Balcon remains a permanent fixture on my desk to remind me that freedom is indeed not free, but has a price. That price is paid in the air, land and sea by the men and women in uniform who serve our great country around the world making sacrifices every day to preserve our nation's values and our way of life.

While there may be various personal reasons why some serve, (finances, education, opportunity, travel, etc.), I believe we ultimately serve because of the belief that there is something bigger than ourselves that's worth defending. Call it patriotism, way of life, freedom, etc., the fact remains that those of us in uniform, regardless of specialty, serve for the greater good. That's what Specialist Balcon believed, and that's what I believe as well. So I ask you, why do you serve?