Remember why you're a patriot

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Scott T. Sturkol
  • Air Force Expeditionary Center Public Affairs
I stepped outside my home one recent August evening to catch some cool night air. The next thing I knew the melancholy notes of "Taps" filled the air.

I had forgotten that at 10 p.m. every night at McGuire Air Force Base, N.J., as in most military installations at nondeployed locations, the lone bugler or trumpet signals lights out.

With no shoes on, I could feel the dew seeping into my socks as I stood at attention with my hand over my heart as the music hit its waning notes. As the last note faded, I heard the hum of jet engines from a KC-10 Extender as it flew over my home.

"Here's to you and all you've done," I thought as the stillness returned to the evening. I was saluting all the men and women, the consummate patriots of this great land of ours, who died for America's freedom.

The emotionally textured "Taps" combined with the aircraft flyover provided that strong reminder. I forgot about my wet feet as I thought about patriots and why I'm one.

I made my way to the cement step leading to the back door of my home and sat down. Being a patriot isn't easy. It takes commitment to believe so strongly in your country that you're willing to lay down your life for it. That is what it takes to serve in the military -- the definition is actually one who loves his or her country and supports its authority and interests.

I was nearly in tears. How lucky am I to be in America enjoying this cool beautiful night while my comrades are off in some foreign land helping others gain their own freedom? What did I do to deserve to be born, grow up and live in what I consider the greatest country in the world? That's my personal belief but that's also why I'm a patriot.

A breeze whipped up all of the sudden and sent a chill down my back. The chill made me think of a childhood friend I'd almost lost to a heart attack weeks earlier and a friend who's supported me all these years.

I've known him since I was 4 years old when, as neighbors, we'd swap tricycles while out playing some 35 years ago. We'd gone to school together in my hometown in Michigan. We went hunting, fishing, skiing, snowshoeing and played a few thousand games of basketball against each other.

I was there with him when he battled cancer, and won, nearly 20 years ago. When I joined the military and was heading off for basic training more than 16 years ago, he organized a going-away party in my honor. He was also the best man at my wedding. He's the best friend I'll ever have.

It's because of people like him that I serve; that I'm a patriot. He's always supported me, been there when I needed him, and whenever I see him and talk to him, it's like we've never been away from each other.

A half hour has passed, and I'm getting colder. There's another blast of wind yet now I'm not chilly any more as my thoughts shift from my friend to my family.

I've often taken for granted how well my family treats me. My wife, for example, has been through deployments, long work hours and a load of other things during our marriage and my military career, yet she stands beside me as we move forward in life. She gives me strength and provides that "reality check" whenever I need it. I love her more every day we're together. She is my co-patriot.

There are also my children and grandchildren. Whenever I look into their eyes, I see the patriots of the future. I see people who also love their country, and what it means to be a patriot. I can add in my parents, brothers, sister and extended family. They are all reasons why I want to be in the Air Force and why I'm a patriot. They inspire my patriotism.

By this time I figured it was time to call it a night and head indoors. I felt better for some reason after hearing the music, seeing the plane flyover and thinking about family and friends.

"I'm so lucky." That's all I could say to myself. I'm so lucky to have the opportunities I do and lucky to have the life of being a patriot of this country affords me.

On Patriot Day Sept. 11, I will not only remember the people who became heroes on Sept. 11, 2001, I will also remember their friends and families who supported them
because that is why we are all patriots.

I encourage everyone, on Patriot Day and every day, to remember what makes you a patriot.