Is that something you would ever say to the friends you hold dear, the colleagues you work with, or even the family members you love? Most likely, no.
Yet the men and women I encountered at the recent National Security Forum (NSF) held each other to this standard. Held in mid-May at the Air War College on Maxwell Air Force Base, these service men and women expressed with conviction the willingness to lay down their life for their comrades and country without question or hesitation.
The National Security Forum is an annual event in which civilian leaders come together to share perspectives and views with Air War College (AWC) students and faculty on topics such as missile defense, war and decision-making, international policy, media, and national security. This year’s forum brought together more than 114 civilian leaders.
I am amazed and astonished by the commitment and the bond these uniformed students feel toward one another. It’s as if their souls were intertwined. This was eye-opening experience for me. At my own "base"—Coastline Community College in Fountain Valley, California—we take great pride in educating nearly 20,000 members of the U.S. military services via our advanced distance learning program, which brings the virtual classroom to service members near and far. Serving such a large military student population, I thought for sure I knew something about students in uniform, but attending the National Security Forum made it clear to me that there’s much more to educating members of the military than just providing top quality programs and services.
One week of up-close encounters with these students has definitely enhanced my awareness and changed my perspective.
The AWC students participating in the forum are ranking officers attending Maxwell for a year-long master’s degree program in strategic studies. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the cohort included officers from the Navy, Army, as well as international participants from our allied countries. In my seminar group, there was a colonel from Israel and another from the Czech Republic. They gave a unique perspective that none of us could have ever contributed and offered new insights about the United States as seen through their prism and point-of-view. All of our discussions were free flowing, candid, and sometimes even controversial.
I thought that the colonel from Israel said it best when I asked what stood out the most about Americans in uniform. He answered, “I have found these men and women so dedicated, and they serve with such love for their country. It’s genuine and authentic.” His voice, I could tell, carried both envy and respect.
Each day at the NSF, I learned not only about the different military branches and their organizational structures, but moreover, the strong convictions those men and women have for their work and for the cause. “It is like a calling,” said Colonel Jeanne Pryor, who was my personal escort. That was the sentiment echoed by all in my seminar group (group nine) at the NSF. We all noted that the debates about the war, the coverage of the war in the media, or our current presidential campaign didn’t seem to weaken their passion to serve nor raise doubts about why they continue to serve.
I am convinced and now fully understand that those who signed on and stay enlisted are truly willing to put their lives at risk for each other, for you, and for me. Ignoring political rhetoric, they maintain a skilled and steadfast devotion to their original and singular cause: serving our country.
Although I didn’t come from a military family, I thought I understood why and how my uniformed students are committed in serving in this turbulent time of war. But I really didn’t understand. I knew I respected Coastline’s military students for their serving the country and defending our freedoms, but it wasn’t nearly the respect these outstanding men and women deserve. As I reflect on the more than 1,200 military students that graduated with their Coastline Associate in Arts degree this month, I not only congratulate them for their educational achievements, I salute them for their unwavering and unquestionable conviction, service, and courage.
President Coastline Community College
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Coastline Community College has an international reputation as one of the nation's most innovative institutions. Founded in 1976, Coastline continues to deliver education through technology and a comprehensive curriculum.
Unlike other colleges, Coastline does not have a traditional campus. Instead, instruction is offered at approximately 50 sites throughout the Coast Community College District.