Yesterday, I had one of those moments. It was one of those moments that brought into sharp focus a reality that had stood before me everyday. But in this moment, the true significance was revealed.
I watched my good friend Jill promote to Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Air Force Reserves. Presiding over the ceremony, aptly taking place at the Women in Service Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery, were two other good friends: Rose, a Major in the USAF Reserves, and Ann, a retired Colonel also in the USAF Reserves. Down the hall, in an electronic registry of thousands of women who have served in our nation’s military, was the photograph and biography of my grandmother, a WWII Army nurse.
The people, the place, and the importance of it all were, in a word, moving. My three friends, smartly attired in their Service Dress, stood on stage and represented the Air Force and their country. These three women stood in the company – albeit the spiritual company – of thousands of female service members who had gone before them.
As Rose led us through the formal motions of the ceremony and Ann and Jill each took their turns to speak, I watched with great appreciation and respect. To me, these three women represent a combination of character rooted in integrity, resolve, and commitment to others, characteristics not often found operating so harmoniously in one person, let alone three. When I reflect on who these women are, and what they have meant in my life, I am deeply grateful that they are a part of my life.
At my first assignment, Incirlik, Jill and Rose were still active duty, and I remember feeling somewhat in awe that these two peers and women had taken on the responsibility of joining the military. No girl I’d grown up with had gone down such a path, so befriending Jill and Rose was in a way like befriending two very elusive celebrities. I was there when each of them learned they’d deploy, a responsibility that might have been required of them before and that they assumed with calm acceptance and professionalism. I listened to their stories, some scarier than others, and (a rather naive) part of me wondered, Wait, you still want to do this? For life? Again, I was amazed and certainly humbled by their strength and commitment.
At the promotion ceremony, Ann, who is married to the boss that Jill, Rose, my husband, and many others at Incirlik shared, spoke in detail about Jill’s numerous successes and accolades. She brought tears to my eyes as she noted that the audience was largely composed of friends and colleagues whom Jill had met at Incirlik. As Ann explained, Incirlik was a special place, where very close bonds were formed within a relatively large group of people. Knowing these bonds hadn’t broken over the years, it was no surprise that many of us were there to support and honor Jill.
After Jill swore to support and defend the Constitution as a Lieutenant Colonel, she addressed her audience with an eloquent and touching speech about how the women in her life motivated her to do something different with her life. To paraphrase what her grandmother, who was also in the audience, had once told her, “Other people can be boring. Not you.” And so, like Rose and Ann, Jill became someone interesting, uncommon, and really quite extraordinary.
Sitting in the audience, absorbing the image of three women in military uniform and reflecting on my grandmother’s service memorialized in that very hall, I thought that these women were doing it all. And it’s more than simply balancing work and family, which they happen to do quite well. Beyond that, they have a great sense of service for something much bigger than themselves, and in that, they are ready to take on responsibilities that many of us are not equipped to do.
I thought of the children toddling around the auditorium, who, while they might not understand the significance of the event quite yet, were nonetheless witnessing something important. And they will get to grow up in it, among people like Jill, Rose, and Ann, and the men they’re married to. These kids were born into a community that will lead them, that will walk beside them, that will stand behind them. What a group of role models, what a gift…
So thank you, Jill, Rose, and Ann, and to all of our service members, for being the role models, the selfless defenders of our nation, the kind of people that we all should strive to be.