Ever since he was a small child, my older brother knew beyond a doubt where he wanted to go in life. The day he received his acceptance from the Air Force Academy, probably the whole neighborhood could hear our family’s rejoicing. As I watched my brother’s happy face, a thought occurred to me: what a great military America must have, that its newest members become so excited at the prospect of defending their country and loved ones. I truly believe that the young men and women who are willing to give their lives for the defense of American embody the values and courage upon which our country was founded. They not only endure more hardship than the average young American would undergo in a lifetime, they also sacrifice unimaginable parts of their lives.
Of course, my brother’s experiences at the Air Force Academy could not come close to those in a war zone, but even so, cadets must possess incredible resolve to survive basic training. My family’s only contact with my brother was through letters, letters which gave such miserable details as to make us suffer while safely at home. We knew that when my strong, silent brother asked for prayer five times in one letter, he must sorely need it. He told us a story about when he was so exhausted, he fell asleep while running in formation and ran into the side of a building. We heard about the dreaded Jack’s Valley, a site so dusty that many cadets became ill with “Jack’s Hack,” which plagued them with the constant coughing up of dust. Many cadets dropped out during those first grueling weeks of training, but the young men and women who remained displayed fierce courage because they decided to endure for their country.
Air Force Academy cadets also sacrifice their own freedom to a level most modern teenagers could not fathom. When you join the U.S. Military, the government owns you. I remember listening with shock as my brother told me that if a cadet got a bad sunburn, he could get in trouble for the destruction of government property. Additionally, the Air Force Academy cadets miss out on having a normal college experience. For the first two years, they are prohibited from owning a car. Underclassmen must wait for “free” weekends to even leave campus. After they graduate, these young people must go where the government tells them to go and do what the government tells them to do, even if that means they must give their lives for America. I believe in America’s military because of the selflessness and courage these young soldiers demonstrate. I am reminded of this belief as I recall watching my brother head towards the Academy, taking his first steps for my country.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.