Memorial Day is approaching in the United States. It’s a three-day weekend filled with trips up north, picnics, parades and, sometimes, people remembering the point of the day in the first place. Unfortunately, not enough people remember the sacrifices made by those whose lives we celebrate on Memorial Day — nor do they take the time to remember those folks every day. That’s why I’ve made a point lately of flying a U.S. flag at my house as my daily memorial to people more dedicated, more courageous and more deserving of respect than many others.
The concept of a Memorial Day began after the U.S. Civil War ended, picked up steam after WWII and then became an official federal holiday in 1967. The idea was to hold a memorial for those who had died in battle. I see it evolving now, however, as a day to remember those who gave their lives and to thank those who gave a piece of their lives to defending the freedoms in the U.S. that we all take for granted too easily.
I try not to take those freedoms for granted, but I often fail. Still, I’m trying to be better about remembering and appreciating those who have served and fought on my behalf over the years. My father, who fled Czechoslovakia after Hitler’s troops invaded, ended up fighting for the British army in WWII. My uncle and aunt both served in the U.S. Navy during WWII. My brother-in-law Larry served in the U.S. Navy in the 1960s and my brother-in-law Jeff is an active member of the Michigan Air National Guard who has served a tour of duty in Iraq. And then there is Jason “Cliffy” Haag, a guy I met at a corporate communicators conference in Atlanta this past February.
Jason is a Superintendent for public affairs for the 55th Air Wing of the U.S. Air Force. While at the conference, he was just another fun public relations guy that I and my wife, Jessi, hit it off with. We kept in touch on Twitter and Facebook after the conference and have been getting a glimpse of his life while he prepares for a tour of duty in Afghanistan – a yearlong tour for which he volunteered. There have been many poignant status updates about visiting with friends and family and enjoying events to their fullest before he ships out in July.
I wrote to Jason and asked him why he volunteered for a tour in Afghanistan, and why for a full year. He said the main reason was a feeling that he needed to do his part. As Jason explains:
I spent the last five years of my Air Force career in a training assignment at the U.S. Air Force Academy and did not have an opportunity to deploy. It was very frustrating to me as I was counseling and mentoring future leaders of our Air Force, but had not actually seen an operational deployment in years. To put it in perspective, one of my former commanders did a one-year tour in Korea and a one-year tour in Iraq, among other things, during my five years in comfortable Colorado Springs.
Jason recently returned to operational Air Force service, in a non-training environment, at which point he began researching deployment opportunities. According to Jason, the normal rotation in his career field is six months of deployment and six months at home. Mixed in are “365s,” which are one-year deployments that are often hard to fill. That’s what Jason has volunteered for. He said:
Since I had not deployed in so long, I felt I should really step up and take on one of these 365s. After all, many of my peers had been “covering” me while I was at the Academy. I also believe it is important that I, as a senior noncommissioned officer, set the example for the younger airmen in my charge.
Jason’s story inspired me to start thinking more about what I take for granted, how I haven’t really had to do that much to enjoy the freedoms I have every day, and to put into perspective a lot of the little crap that comes along in life but that doesn’t really matter that much in the grand scheme of things. As Jason said:
It is easy for me to sit behind my desk and talk to them about the realities of our career field (being deployed half of every year), but to not be out front in seeking out those opportunities is hypocritical.
Indeed — much like it’s hypocritical for U.S. citizens to wave the flag on Memorial Day or the Fourth of July, or to stand at attention when the national anthem is played at sporting events, but then forget why we are doing that. Too often, I think we focus on our picnics and relaxation on the extra day off we get because of a holiday established to honor the men and women in uniform who put it all on the line. And we rarely remember the families left behind to keep the home fires burning until their loved ones return.
So for Jason “Cliffy” Haag, Kurt Adler, George Frankos, Beth Frankos, Larry Ivory, Jeff Wortley and the millions of soldiers who deserve our gratitude and our respect, this flag’s for you: