Military members - why do you serve?

Vance Air Force Base, Okla. -- Almost every morning, I drag myself out of bed around 4:30 a.m., get a pot of coffee brewing and put on my physical training clothes, get the leashes on the dogs and we go for a jog.
I need to get this done early because who knows what time I will get home from work or what will happen during the day.
Like many of you, I ask myself why I continue doing this. For me the answer is easy, I love to serve this country.
Every few weeks, the first sergeants take the time to sit down with our newest Airmen, share our "wisdom" and give worldly advice on how to have a good career. I always ask them why they joined, and what they expect from the Air Force. The answers are usually the same. They joined to get school paid for, get a fresh start, learn some discipline and get a skill. These are all good reasons to be here but let's not forget the bottom line, we are all here to serve our country.
I admit that when I joined the military in June 1978 I did not have lofty idealistic notions of patriotism and service, I joined because the Ohio Air National Guard was paying 100 percent tuition and would put around $125 in my pocket a month. Through several years of maturing and experiencing life, I am more idealistic and patriotism is an ingrained part of who I am. I serve now because it is the right thing to do.
Service is one of our Air Force Core Values, but how often do we take the time to reflect what service is rather than something we regurgitate for recognition boards and promotion tests? Service wears many uniforms in our country and can be found in both our military and civilian sectors. Think about all those people who, like us, hold jobs that don't pay much and are often dangerous. Despite this they show up every day and give something of themselves to make our country stronger. When is the last time you said thank you to a teacher, a police officer, firefighter, nurse or a farmer. These are just a few of the types of service in which people willingly give something of themselves to keep us safe, teach our children and feed the world. Don't forget all those who have gone before us. Take the time to shake the hand of a veteran and tell them you are proud of them and appreciate their sacrifices. Service is the military spouse who packs and unpacks the household goods, takes care of business while his or her spouse is serving on foreign soil and perhaps sacrifices his or her career goals to support his or her military spouse's career. The point here is that service is more than something you put before self, service is a part of who we are, a natural part of us that guides our actions and behavior.
My latest career plan is to retire next May, unless God comes up with a new plan. Leaving the military does not mean service will stop for me, I know that my new career will in some way keep me serving in some capacity. This old dinosaur has had a good run but as my wife says, "this can't last forever." Before I go, I will be shaking a lot of hands and saying thank you for serving this great nation. In the past 26 years, I have traveled to quite a few countries and experienced things that most civilians will never know. What I have learned from all my travels is the United States is the number one nation in the world because of all the freedoms and opportunity, the right to speak our minds and work to make change where change is needed.
Your service ensures and protects the freedom we enjoy. As an American, I can't express my gratitude enough for what you do. Keep serving and teach your children the importance of service. Their service will keep our nation the strongest in the world for generations to come.