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Today marks my final Thanksgiving Day in uniform. I have spent it largely alone, as the Middle East dust has been playing Old Harry with my sinuses, sharply limiting my opportunities for fellowship. I did make an exception to go serve the troops at the dining facility, or “DFAC” in our military lingo. I was entrusted with the corn-on-the-cob, collard greens and gravy. They kept me away from the carving knives, which was probably the right call, manual dexterity not being my strong suit.
I can’t help but feel a bit nostalgic–indeed, thankful–as I tic off each of these “lasts” through this final year on active duty, an extraordinarily fulfilling 35-year adventure from start to finish. The Air Force collected me from a disastrous early college experience, gave me a trade and sufficient structure to get me through those undisciplined early adult years, and then let me go back to school once I’d grown up enough to handle it. It sent me to amazing places and introduced me to even more amazing people–including my lifelong friend and soul-mate, who willingly signed up for the rest of the journey.
The Air Force also gave me the chance to have incredible experiences, some carefully planned but most completely unexpected. I have briefed Congressional delegations and cabinet secretaries, organized Presidential visits abroad, and flown with an allied Prime Minister to the deck of an American aircraft carrier. I’ve walked to the summit of Mount Fuji, upon the ancient birthplace of Abraham, through what’s left of the Hanoi Hilton, and beneath the “Arbeit Macht Frei” gate at Auschwitz. I have marched down Constitution Avenue on the Fourth of July and laid our veterans–including one U.S. Senator–to rest in Arlington National Cemetery. I have lived through typhoons, earthquakes, coup attempts, insurgent attacks, Australian bushfires, and a Philippine volcanic eruption. I’ve been evacuated from one country by air and another by sea. I have organized medical outreach missions in developing countries, as well as urban outreach projects in Southeast DC.
All this in just three and a half decades! For this and so much more, I am deeply thankful this year–this final Thanksgiving in uniform.