By Lt. Col. David J. Linkh, 30th Medical Operations Squadron
/ Published June 30, 2015
VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- As I stand motionless amongst the ranks for the thousandth time, I find myself in the throes of a familiar limbic phenomenon. I remain stoic as the internal cacophony plays out, a tingle radiating up and down the spine, a sense of pulses or waves of energy and the actual manifestation of goosebumps, a phenomenon known scientifically as piloerection, which causes the hair follicles to stiffen and the small hairs on the trunk and extremities to stand on end. Regardless of the venue, the company or the method, whether played by a grand orchestra, a tired old recording or an a capella chorus of schoolchildren, the effect is invariable. As I hear the familiar strains of our national anthem, I find myself again in the midst of these familiar sensations. As much as I have learned to anticipate them, it always takes me by surprise, as spontaneous and authentic as any feeling I have ever known and irreproducible by any force of conscious will, desire or intent. Often I scan the room and wonder whether I am alone in this peculiar tendency or whether every man, woman and child around me is experiencing the very same sensations, a room full of people, otherwise silent and motionless but thrumming with the resonating chords of national pride and heartfelt patriotism.
As I reach my 20th year in service, I have begun to ponder my retirement. There are so many things to consider: the timing, my family, geography, and economic opportunity to name a few. Many among my cohorts have begun to "punch", as the phrase goes, and I struggle with determining the right time to call it a career. Reaching the end of my squadron command tour, I am simultaneously exhausted and energized. The opportunity to lead at this level has been nothing short of a peak experience; a truly exceptional two years, that have gone by in the blink of an eye. Now relocating for the eighth time, I am moved to consider, how many more? And, how do I know when it is time? But every time I hear those familiar notes of the Star Spangled Banner, I feel like I could take the oath of office and start all over again.
For me it all comes back to why we do what we do. Each member's reasons may be a little different, but I believe that at the end of the day, we are all united by a desire to serve and are connected by a shared commitment to ideals and to an institution greater than ourselves. As I think back on the sacrifices service members have made throughout our country's history, I am truly overwhelmed by the magnitude of their accomplishments and the strength of their convictions. From the inception of our country, born in violent revolution, to the bloody civil war that nearly tore us apart. Fast forward in history to two world wars where our greatest generation did nothing short of saving the world and preserved the umbrella of freedom and democracy that my generation sheltered and thrived beneath, to Vietnam, Korea, Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and more. The blood of heroes runs deep.
When I think of the spiritual pillar of Comprehensive Airman Fitness, this is the essence of it for me. It is not religious or metaphysical, but a shared commitment to ideals and freedoms that is the powerful underlying force that binds us to the institution and to one another.
So, it seems timely in this space between Memorial and Independence Day to reflect on these values and celebrate our fellowship as wingmen. I still feel a special sense of pride each time I don my uniform and regardless of the challenges I face or the current stressors in my life, I feel invincible because as long as I stay true to our core values and the oath I first took almost 20 years ago, I serve a higher purpose and my success is assured. Today, as always, I feel blessed and humbled by the opportunity to serve.
I am just beginning to conceive of the day when it will be time to take off the uniform; a day that will inevitably come for all of us. Somehow I still can't imagine getting up in the morning and putting on anything else. I've heard it said at many retirements that you know when it's time and I guess I will know as well. For now the prospect has little appeal. As I approach and ultimately pass the 20-year mark, I find myself refocusing with a commitment to be fully present in every assignment, every opportunity and every interaction and to remember to enjoy the journey instead of just anticipating the next challenge, job or promotion. Knowing that I can exit at any juncture is liberating but also reminds me that as the end comes into view it is time to give back, closing the karmic loop, acknowledging all that I've been given and everyone who made it possible: my family, my mentors, and my Airmen. Someday soon I may call it a career, but for now the words of Francis Scott Key still elicit undeniable feelings and evoke that telltale response just as strongly as ever. For now, I will continue putting on this uniform and standing at attention for Old Glory and when those familiar strains begin to play, I'll still get goosebumps.