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Your story matters

  • Published
  • By Capt. Heath Allen
  • 386th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
When I sat down to pen this commentary, I sifted through leadership quotes. I thought about all the cerebral, ornate language from squadron officer school that lulled me into a slumberous submission. I thought about all of the other commentaries I've read throughout my career and how someone, somewhere should invent a sarcasm font.

Yes, you've all undoubtedly been pelted with nuggets of knowledge from military leadership manuals on how to be a team player, how to lead teams and how to operate effectively and make key decisions in joint and coalition environments. The leadership experts provide us detailed instructions on how to lead from the front, from the rear, from your cozy leather office chair and from the battlefield.

But no leadership literature that I've ever read can prepare a person for that first deployment, that first time away from family, missing that first Christmas, that important birthday or that entire baseball season.

While I knew all of that would occur, it wasn't real until it happened. And when it transpires, and you're sidelined, unable to participate in your family's life, it becomes very real.

Watching iPhone video of my son's baseball games, his soccer matches and his birthday party - it almost makes you feel like you're experiencing life in third person, like it's someone else's story and you've got a backstage pass to hang out with the narrator. It's virtually real but you're not living it.

In my job in public affairs, my primary mission is to shine a spotlight on all the hard-working Airmen who are deployed here away from their families, missing all of those same moments. My objective is to show the families how important their loved ones are to the mission.

While this is only my first deployment, I know there are servicemembers missing their kids' childhoods in six-month chunks at time, a year in some instances. Those are moments you can't retrieve. Once they've passed, they are forever elusive. They are someone else's memories now - your vicarious recollections.

While it has become the party line to talk about sacrifice, commitment, duty, love of country, etc., one can't help but wonder what those concepts means to a child, what they mean to my 11-year-old son.

I'd love to offer an insightful, motivating monologue that furnishes the solutions, articulated with all the right words, both inspiring and true. But the answer is, I don't know.

I don't know what those words mean to children. Hopefully, they understand. All you can do is try to help them comprehend why the world requires people like you and me, how we're all integral pixels in the big picture.

I'm not going to fill my son's head full of patriotic delusions and tell him that this country's perfect. I'm quite certain he would quickly spot that as a lie anyway.

But what I can do is my job, to harness my aptitudes in an effort to help those children, my child, understand why we're all here - why not just the country but the world needs our help, that we're involved in something meaningful and that we're all making personal sacrifices to help leave the world better than we found it.

The most valuable mission of public affairs is to tell the Airman's story. It's our job to convey the message of how critical your job is to the world, and most importantly, express those sentiments to your family.

To me, that's immensely important because it's not just the military members making that sacrifice. It's the 11-year-old boy whose dad is suddenly not there to offer motivation and encouragement after that double in the gap, or that disappointing strikeout. It's the little girl whose mom is flying C-130s or turning wrenches instead of making French braids and coaching soccer matches.

It's important for that little boy and that little girl to know that their sacrifices are meaningful, too - that their mom or dad has a purpose here, and that some other child in another country may get one step closer to experiencing the life and the freedoms we enjoy every day because of what they had to give up.

That's what I've tried to accomplish here during my first deployment. Your story is monumental and your families all need to hear it.

While the country may borrow your services from time to time and you will undoubtedly be faced with the arduous journey of another deployment, please don't forget to tell those loved ones back home how important they are to the mission, too.