Let us write one helluva story

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- "We tell ourselves stories to live."  

Those are the words of the famous American author Joan Didion. I believe she penned those words to describe the fact that we have a tendency to want to talk about our own life as a story. I would argue that we do so because we want our lives to have meaning...to have relevance. We simply want our lives to mean more than mere existence.

And so, the story I share with you today is one of the forces of good pitted against the forces of evil with the hope, prosperity, and freedom from oppression of a great people lying in the balance. It is the story of King Leonidas of Sparta. You might know him by way of Hollywood (as in the movie "300"), but the reality is that he--in fact--did live, and the story of his last stand at the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C. is the stuff of legends.

With 300 loyal Spartans by his side, Leonidas led a Greek force of 7,000 against a vastly larger Persian army hundreds of thousands strong. The Persians sought tyrannical rule over the lands they conquered. Leonidas fought valiantly but, ultimately perished in battle, as did most all of his faithful 300. Yet, his example, his story, stirred the Greeks to fight for their freedom and preservation of their way of life. The conflict raged for over 30 years after Leonidas' last stand and, in the end, Greece remained free.

Today a war of good versus evil rages once more; this time with the fate of the Iraqi people lying in the balance.  As Airmen and defenders of justice, your actions will play a major role in the outcome of that story. In fact, I promise you that your children and your children's children will read about Operation Iraqi Freedom and the Global War on Terrorism...and when they do, they, along with many others, they will want to hear your story. And so it is that what we accomplish together in these times; how we support and execute the mission and sell out for one another will define how we tell that story for the rest of our lives. I encourage each and every one of you to make it a story that you can tell with pride--never shame.

The prospect of freedom is powerful. It inspires bravery as people dream that a better life is attainable. Much like Leonidas and his brave 300, such was also the case in 1776. The prospect of freedom inspired bravery in the hearts of men who fashioned a volunteer army which fought for and won our freedom from a great colonial power.

Today, you are that volunteer force. You represent the best that our great nation has to offer. Ironically, some would argue that technology is what makes our military force so great. I disagree. I believe it is you. Men and women of different colors, races, and creeds bound together by an ideal. The belief in freedom, the equality of man, and the preservation of our way of life.

Some eight thousand miles away, brave Iraqis are embarking on a new chapter in their history--their own story. And like our forefathers, those that subscribe to the rule of law believe that freedom is within their grasp. Our mission is to help them achieve that freedom. Now, we have to be honest with ourselves and accept the fact that the task at hand is difficult at best.  The stakes of war are high--they are life and death.

As we press on with the Global War on Terrorism, we must also take care of one another as we set out to accomplish the mission. Ultimately, we must care for each other as family cares for its own. In short, we must live out what it means to place "Service Before Self."

Now, let's go write one helluva story...