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Five minutes to impact

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Scott T. Sturkol
  • 380th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
It was March 12 -- a day after Secretary of Defense Robert Gates visited my deployed base here and spoke to the hundreds of servicemembers of my wing and base units.

I took a look at my watch and it read 5:55 p.m. plus a few seconds. We had five minutes to the start of our weekly wing retreat ceremony. So, like several hundred other participants at the ceremony, I found my place in the formation and waited at the standing "parade rest" position.

Another glance at my watch and a mere 30-some seconds had passed. I realized that I had five minutes to think. It was a mind-wandering opportunity so I took it.

My first thoughts went to the events of the previous day. I couldn't believe that got the opportunity to shake hands with the Secretary of Defense. That was a first for me and I was quite taken aback by the chance of that ever happening again. That opportunity came just a few weeks after meeting the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen on Feb. 18.

Another look at my watch said there was four minutes to go.

For some reason, my thoughts moved quickly from the meeting with Secretary Gates to my daughter's 17th birthday that was happening in just a couple days. I thought how this year was going to be another year that I was going to miss being home for her birthday. What kind of father am I to miss another special day for my Ivy who was turning 17. I was mad and sad at the same time. But what could I do - I'm deployed.

Another watch check - less than three minutes.

My concern over missing my daughter's birthday turned into feelings of appreciation for my wife. Bobbi and I have been married for 18 years. I'm not sure what she thinks, but I can easily say I've gotten the best end of this deal. With Bobbi, we've built a great family and have had fantastic memories throughout our marriage and our military career. We've also had a lot of separation with me being on my seventh deployment. The thought of Bobbi waiting on me to return is never easy and I know that without her I couldn't do what I have to do on a deployment. I'm so lucky.

Just then some more people line up and I heard one ask the other, "When does it start?" The other replies, "In about two minutes."

After thinking about my wife waiting for me to return, and after hearing those two people talking to each other, I had this gush of emotion come over me. I was thinking of the men and women who went on deployment and never made it home the same way they left. I could almost feel a tear welling up in my eye. This just wasn't right, but it did put into perspective my thoughts of the previous moments. I have to realize that nearly every day there may be a spouse of family who won't have their deployed hero come home because he or she died for their country. Very sobering.

It was then I took another quick look at my watch. We had just under a minute before the ceremony started. Everyone was now lined up, formed up and ready.

It always amazes me how military members know what to do to "fall in" for these ceremonies. In any case, I heard the leader of the lead formation put his flight at "attention." Then, he shouted, "Sound retreat!" Next, as the last minute was coming to a crescendo with the preliminary music starting to play, the time was up and I realized that everything I was thinking about was all for a reason.

As the initial drum roll for the Star-Spangled Banner began, a chill came over me. The impact of my five-minute wait was brought to fruition with the playing of our national anthem like a smack in the jaw.

"It's about freedom," I realized. I have to do what I do because "freedom isn't free." The price of freedom was our JCS and SECDEF coming to thank us and our families. The price is my family and thousands of other families holding down the homefront while I and other service members are deployed.

The price, the ultimate price, are those who give their lives in the line of duty. So as the music played, I ended my five-minute wait realizing it had been "five minutes to impact" for me.

If you have five minutes, no matter where you are, think about the importance of what our deployed men and women are doing at home and overseas every day in guarding our freedoms as Americans. I guarantee they, like me, realize their sacrifice impacts someone's life every day.