-Originally written June 27, 2011
United States Air Force (USAF). Having spent the last 16+ years within the organization, I've come to gain a much greater appreciation of what those four words mean. As a child growing up, I was a citizen protected by this organization. As a young adult, I was aware of it, but not quite interested in what they had to offer...college is the road to success, right? As a college graduate with a baby on the way, the USAF all of a sudden looked like an opportunity. That opportunity turned into a way of life. First as a young enlisted troop, then later as an officer. Now, my time within this fine organization is almost over and I can now add combat veteran to the list of titles I can carry the rest of my life.
During my time at basic training, I tried to capture the experience in a poem I entitled, "Meaning of Blue". The transition into the Air Force seemed obvious: "We were all wondering just what should we do, lost and lonely was our definition of blue" to "You know what I'm talking about, Tears of pride for all we do; So as we go on to bigger things, Look at the Flag and be proud to be blue". That was written in 1995, a much simpler time in America...before 9/11.
As I transition out of the Air Force and return to the civilian world, I can't help but to look back. The unknowing young man who was about to gain a world of knowledge, experience, leadership, mentoring, developing, and guidance. I got to represent a world class organization and had the distinct advantage of getting to take advantage of the opportunities afforded me as well. Sure, there were sacrifices, but there was so much more gained...in most cases.
In twelve days, I take off the uniform for the last time. On 1 October, I'll officially wake up a civilian. I chose the profession of arms for most of my adult life...but now, it is my time to step aside. It is my time to lay down my arms. For those whom came before me, I salute you. For those whom still serve today, I salute you. For those whom shall come after me, I salute you. May God hold a special place in his kingdom for those whom gave the ultimate sacrifice and may we never forget that freedom does not come free. We've all seen the costs, let's continue in our lives to honor the memories of those lost, and live our lives embracing the rewards that came at such a high cost.
Captain James Lee Ray, USAF...proudly transitioning to just Lee...whatever and whomever that person is to become. I'll always remember the road traveled, but cherish the road ahead.
Thanks for the memories!