When it comes to Life, it’s not the date on the calendar, but the memories and milestones that make us what we are. The memories are unique to each of us, but the milestones are fairly common: leaving school, getting married, having your first (second and third) kid, the first real job, and so on. These give us a common ground and help us form a society and culture.

Every military veteran knows one milestone: the first time we raised our right hand and agreed to obey the legal orders of those above us. During our time, the military constantly reminds us of this day because there’s many administrative details tied to this day and your days of promotion, most of them unimportant (except for the pay raises).

On this day, the anniversary of the first day I raised my right hand, I look back at the boy in Oakland who was desperate to leave his hick town (to where he eventually returned) and start a new life. Along the way, he picked up a family, training and experience that helped shape him into a man.

Somewhere today in this great country, there are dozens of kids raising their right hand like I did. They’re about to experience something so far outside their imagination, they’ll never be able to return to the person they were as teenagers. Most of their time in uniform will be good times. They’ll meet the best America has to offer, travel to lands where they can make a good difference, and learn that the best citizen of any nation is one that thinks of others first.

In doing so, they will become the best America has to offer.

To my fellow Airmen and our colleagues in the uniformed services: Thank You for Your Service to Our Country and Our World.

Airmen participate in the Las Vegas Veterans Day Parade

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