To those who served, brotherhood embodies a deeper meaning than most people think. In fact, I have even been around people who have snickered when I used the word to describe my relationship with those I served with.
Truthfully, when we all raised our right hand and took our oath of enlistment, we didn’t understand the meaning of the word. As with many things in the military, words are often tossed around ambiguously. Until one experiences the impact of the word, the true meaning is lost.
“No greater love has no one than this, the he lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:13
These words never ring truer than when one finds himself in a bunker, foxhole, jungle or washout. Knowing that the person next to you will give his/her life for your safety, and you for theirs, creates a bond most never truly understand.
25 years after the flag was lowered at Clark Air Base, the bond between my brothers and sisters never wavered. At our reunions, it as if no time has passed, and if someone needs a hand, we all step up. It doesn’t matter that we are older, fatter and slower than we were when patrolling the dense brush at Clark Air Base; we still have each other’s back.
The same bond exists between those who I served with at Ellsworth AFB and Operation Desert Shield/Storm. Somewhere along the way we became family. There is no exact moment or sudden realization, it simply grows from our shared values. The person to your left and the person to your right, have the same level of commitment and dedication as you do.
While we don’t see each other as often as we would like, we have an instinct that is immediately triggered if one of our brothers or sisters call out for help. We drop everything going on in our lives to rally and protect them without question.
The best way I can explain the bond would be the “high school reunion.” You walk into a room after thirty years with no contact and exchange handshakes and hugs. You laugh, remember the past and suddenly a long awkward silence takes over. The kind of silence akin to a first date or meeting the family of an old friend. Veterans who served together don’t have that silence.
These are the men and women who shared every single emotion with you and like you. When we are together it becomes a form of therapy without the one hundred dollars an hour cost to talk to a stranger. We have been where they have, we understand the hardships that they went through and they know it. We do not judge one another. Sure we may question some of each other’s decisions, but there is a very big difference in questioning and judging. Our questions come from a place of looking out for the other person. We want to listen, we want to help and we want nothing but the best for each other.
Your brothers and sisters have made some of the most difficult sacrifices that any person should have to endure. For example, newlyweds needing to say goodbye after just a few days or a father leaving his wife who is eight and a half months pregnant with their first child and wondering if he would ever meet his little one. We make those sacrifices because we possess a love of country, love of family, love of freedom and love of our brothers and sisters in arms.
I remember a meeting held at our squadron headquarters two days after Iraq invaded Kuwait. Our commander called us into the briefing room and advised us of the situation. We were told that in the event of a response by the United States, the Security Police at Ellsworth would be providing an Air Base Ground Defense chalk and a command element. As the briefing was taking place I looked over to one of my troops and said, “Hey Burt, whatta ya say. Want to volunteer?”
The question was asked without hesitation and he answered immediately. I knew his answer before I asked because this is what we had trained for. We were prepared to do what was required in the name of preserving freedom.
When we were dismissed, I approached the major. I informed him that myself and Airman Burton wanted to volunteer for any deployment tasked of the Ellsworth Security Police. The major was not taking volunteers, but my wishes, for lack of a better term, were noted.
I am not sure how many other members we deployed with were volunteers, and when I stopped to think about why I was so quick to do so, I knew deep in my soul that the reasons were those mentioned above. Family, Country, Freedom!
Over the years, explaining the concept of brotherhood to civilians has proven a futile task. I have given it my best shot. People want to understand, but the translation gets lost. I now know, brotherhood can only be lived and felt, not explained.
Even harder to explain is how that bond extends to those who served in different branches during different times. I experienced this in 2015 during the 3rd SPG Reunion in Washington, DC. At the Sheraton, Pentagon City we ran into veterans of the United States Marine Corp. As we began talking to each about why our paths had crossed, there was an instant mutual respect. Through our shared sense of honor, loyalty, commitment to our country we too were brothers.
It did not take long before the jokes about which branch was better, and why, started circulating. All friendly banter and all a shared experience. The conversations revealed that some of us had unknowingly served in the Philippines and Desert Storm together. Our kinship formed bonding us together forever.
Although you may still not understand the brotherhood, I hope you can at least understand the reasons why it is important to me and those I served with. To my brothers and sisters who have served – no matter which branch, nor which time period, I will always have your six.