Why I serve

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Curt Castillo
  • 5th Flying Training Squadron commander

VANCE AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- Ever since I was a young child I have been fascinated with airplanes and flight.

While in kindergarten, I lived in Enid just north of Vance Air Force Base where for hours I would stand in my front yard and watch the T-37s and T-38s fly overhead.

I loved the flying so much I even told my mother, "I'm going to fly those airplanes someday." For me it was about the airplanes. However that changed when I met Captain Mickelson, Gen. James Robinson Risner and Colonel Silva.

Captain Mickelson was my kindergarten teacher's husband and a T-38 instructor pilot. He was serving in the aftermath of the Vietnam War when opinions of the military were at an all-time low.

Yet when I met him he was professional and proud. His appearance and demeanor were perfectly within regulations and he was the personification of "excellence in all we do" as an Air Force officer and pilot.

Colonel Silva was my ROTC commander and a Vietnam-era F-4 pilot. Colonel Silva carried a strong sense of duty. Despite his college friends moving to Canada to evade the Vietnam War draft, Colonel Silva chose to put "service before self" so that his friends could have the right to choose not to.

General Risner spoke at my church in Tulsa, Oklahoma, a year after his release from the Hanoi Hilton, where American prisoners of war were held by North Vietnam.

He shared stories of the horrible torture he endured while in captivity yet shared that his faith in God and faith in his fellow Airmen helped him persevere. General Risner displayed great courage and "integrity first" even when his life was in jeopardy so that his men might have hope for rescue and survival.

I don't pretend to compare my service with that of patriots like Mickelson, Risner or Silva. However I do understand that any and all service means a great deal to the American citizens we serve.

When I hear "thank you for your service” from appreciative civilians, I realize that what they are truly saying is “Thank you for your integrity to preserve the rights and freedoms of our great country.

“Thank you for your selfless service to protect her citizens and the ones we love.

“Thank you for your excellence in doing your job well so you can safely return home to the ones who appreciate you.”

So why do I serve?

I decided to serve because I wanted to honor Captain Mickelson, Colonel Silva, General Risner and Airmen like them. Airmen who have served with integrity, selflessness and excellence before these were Air Force Core Values.

I have served to defend what is important to our American ideals and the legacy of liberty. I have served because I love America.

I continue to serve because I want to positively shape and mentor the future leaders of our Air Force and of our great nation.

Why do you serve?


Air Force Core Values

Integrity first
Service before self
Excellence in all we do