My heroes have always worn uniforms

  • Published
  • By Joe B. Wiles
  • 71st Flying Training Wing Public Affairs
When I hear Willie Nelson sing "My heroes have always been cowboys," I have to thank the good Lord for giving Willie an extra dose of talent. I imagine some might say Willie received more song writing talent than song singing talent.

Unlike Willie, my heroes - especially my real-life heroes - have always worn military uniforms.

Uncle Bob on my mother's side of the family was the first person I knew that used a wheelchair. We'd go visit him, Aunt Polly and my cousin Larry in Checotah, Okla., home of Carrie Underwood. This was back when there was still an ice-house doing brisk business in the summer and a hamburger and fries cost a quarter at the K.D. Cafe.

Uncle Bob was drafted into the Army during the Korean War. He was hit in the lower back by a bullet from a machine gun during basic training. And while it took away his ability to walk, it did not take away his patriotism or love of country. He was one of my heroes who had worn a uniform.

My father was a real cowboy. He and his horse, Peanut, worked on the Mullendore Ranch here in Oklahoma. In fact, his first date with my mother was highlighted by helping a cow give birth to her first calf.

Dad was drafted into the Army, six months before I was born. All I saw of him, and he of me, were pictures until I was 18 months old. To this day, he proudly tells stories about his two-year Army tour like it happened yesterday. He even taught me close-order drill with my toy M-1 rifle, a Christmas present in 1957. He is one of my heroes who have worn a uniform.

There is a picture on my refrigerator door of two of my nephews, both in Army Combat Uniforms standing next to a tent in Afghanistan. They were members of an Oklahoma Army National Guard unit out of Tulsa, Okla., and were deployed together.

They were lucky and came home alive and intact. They weren't drafted. They chose to serve their country. And I am very, very proud of them. They are two of my heroes who have worn a uniform.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention John Wayne. Although not one of my real-life heroes, he made a huge impression on me in the movie, "The Green Berets." Standing taller than a redwood, he strutted through the jungle, not a single AK-47 round daring to disturb him. Rest in peace Marion.

Once a month, on a Thursday, I have the privilege of giving the Public Affairs briefing to Team Vance members preparing to deploy. We have more than 50 Airmen deployed at any given time. I've briefed junior enlisted and senior officers, instructor pilots and Security Forces defenders. And every time I get the same feelings - respect and pride.

It is fairly easy for those of us living comfortably here in Enid, Okla., to speak of service to our nation and our willingness to defend to the death our great way of life. But the deployers I brief are about to put the walk to the talk. They are preparing to go in harm's way, just as they pledged to do when joining the Air Force.

I am humbled every time I walk into that briefing room. And I am happy to add more names and faces to my list of heroes who have worn, and wear, a uniform. Thank you one and all.