Saturday, June 21, 2008

"OH!" Moments

Ever have one of those “OH!” moments? You know, those moments when what was fuzzy suddenly becomes clear. Sometimes, when someone has an “OH!” moment, it shows on their face. They might get a bemused look, or a sheepish look, or a maybe an angry look. Little kids’ faces are best at showing “OH!” moments, maybe because they haven’t learned how to hide from the world yet, or maybe because they tend to have so many of them. Watching a little kid’s face as they figure out the answer to that moment’s question is priceless, though. But I digress.

When I was a young AF Captain, I had one of those pivotal “OH!” moments; the type that shifted my view of the world and my place in it. It came when I was on a TDY trip to Korea for a trial and defense counsel conference. During the conference, we took a trip to Panmunjom, the Joint Security Area that bisects the military demarcation line separating North and South Korea. It was there that I had one of those moments.

To set the stage for my moment, when I went to Korea, I had served a little over 3 years in the Air Force and before that had been the quintessential Air Force brat. My dad had been assigned to mostly Strategic Air Command bases and so for a long time I thought that the SAC motto of “Peace is our Profession” found on every SAC base Main Gate was actually the US motto. I thought that everyone in the US stood up for the National Anthem in movie theaters before watching the feature presentation. It was not a big deal for me to have a dog walk through my date’s car at the Main Gate if I came home after 10pm. It wasn’t until my Dad retired that I realized that there was a different culture “out there” to be explored. I joined the Air Force during the latter part of the Cold War. Like a lot of other people, my husband and I joined the Air Force to gain legal experience. We weren’t unique. It was an all-volunteer military, there was no “shooting war,” and people joined for experience, training, travel, or educational benefits. In the immediate post-Vietnam era, very few recruiters emphasized that the military “broke things and killed people.” Even though I was a military brat, the first time I heard that phrase (during some initial training), I thought “yeah, right. I’m an attorney and this is the Air Force.”

So it was a bit of an eye opener when I noticed what looked like unfinished overpasses with these things that looked like giant concrete jacks (you know the kids game played with jacks & a ball) scattered on the side of the road on the way to Panmunjom. At first, I couldn’t figure out what they were. Construction equipment? Support beams? Then it dawned on me. They were barriers of some sort; perhaps to stop tanks or an invasion. “Wow” I thought. “The Korean government isn’t playing games here.” My eyes grew a bit wider the first time we passed an American Soldier on the road, carrying a weapon and obviously ready to use it. The Soldier yelled out his unit’s motto. I couldn’t understand it at the time, but was later told it was “Tip of the spear, Sir.” (We had General Officers aboard the bus.) It was obvious that our Soldiers weren’t playing games either. I really had my “OH!” moment; however, when arrived at Panmunjom, received the safety and security briefing, and were allowed to tour the area. Despite the humorous offer of a TV for any company grade officers who defected (field grade officers got a VCR and a TV) made over the loudspeakers from the North Korean side; I realized that those North Korean soldiers just over that small line were ready to do violence in a heartbeat. I had heard how a simple tree cutting exercise had gotten out of hand a few years earlier, resulting in deaths. I knew if anyone in the tour group did something stupid (we’re talking lawyers here); things could get out of hand again. It was then that I had my “OH!” moment and realized that although I was an attorney, I was also an Air Force officer and I was truly in a business that “broke things and killed people.”

Was it a bit scary? Yes. Not because I had chosen to serve my country, but because of the responsibility that serving in a business that does violence brings with it. What is awe-inspiring to me is that in today’s post-9/11 world, our young people have already had that “OH!” moment. They already know, when they volunteer, that they are joining an organization that “breaks things and kills people.” They’ve seen a shooting war played out on TV for several years. I know that there are still some who believe that most of our young people join because they lack education or lack opportunities or lack something (brains)? I know better. I’ve served with them. I know that most of our young volunteers join the military out of a sense of responsibility and desire to give something back. As a staff judge advocate, I routinely interviewed young attorneys applying for a position with the Air Force Judge Advocate Corps. When asked why they wanted to serve, almost all would blush or look somewhat sheepish and reply something along the lines of, “well, it may sound corny, but I wanted to serve my country.” I know that different people join the military for different reasons, but I think just about everyone leaves with a sense of responsibility for and pride in this country. Realizing that was another one of my “OH!” moments; but then sometimes I’m slow.


Audrey said...
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Aunty 2 said...

My "OH" moment came when I realized that 40 wasn't as old as I thought it was (When I hit 39) Now, getting closer to 50- I am just hitting my stride! Just a little levity...

Grama36 said...

I have had lots of "OH" moments some were when I became a mother others when I became a grandmother. My biggest "OH" moment was when My husband went to Viet Nam the first time and I realized he could really get killed over there..