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Daughters give perspective on true meaning of service

RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany (AFNEWS) -- I retired March 1 this year. As part of the obligatory going-away dinner, Lt. Gen. Rod Bishop, 3rd Air Force commander, surprised us all with a letter from my daughters in which they expressed some pretty insightful ideas.

I think it's a powerful expression of family support that most families feel but might not have expressed. I'd like to share it so that others in uniform might better appreciate the impact their service has on those around them.

"After 34 years of service with the Air Force, my dad is retiring. In his honor, his fellow Colonels and Generals got together to celebrate his distinguished career on his last night in Germany.

My dad has told me many times how he has worried about the effects of his time with the Air Force on me and my sister. It certainly has had a significant effect, but not quite in the way he has thought. Through General Bishop, my sister and I presented a letter to Dad, to tell him what his 34 years have meant to us:

A Letter To Our Dad:

Though we weren't around when you first made your decision to join the Air Force, your decision impacted us forever there after. In ways that we couldn't have understood as young children, we now see how we have been forever shaped by that one significant decision you made many years ago.

Had it not been for your service, we never would have known what it means to truly love your country at times in history when it may not be popular. We never would have been so intensely conscious of the decisions of our nation's leaders. As citizens, we never would have been as informed and may have fallen prey to the apathy that many of our generation's youth are known for.

We never would have known what it means to meet families or countrymen outside our own and to love them in the way that you love your own. We never would have had the opportunity or privilege to share in that common bond with countless other military family members.

We never would have understood the true meaning of American symbols. Our attention would not have been drawn to a half-staffed American flag, and we never would have felt the abundance of pride we do every time we hear the national anthem or see you in uniform.

We never would have known what it means to see a comrade fall and to experience the loss so deeply. Our hearts would not have been touched to see a community rally in respect to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice so that others may live.

We never would have understood that a true man shows both bravery and compassion in times of war. We never would have seen the struggle you faced as you made the difficult decisions of whose nature we can only imagine. We never would have learned that true leadership requires that a man make decisions that break his heart and steel his resolve at the same time.

Finally, we never would have known the true meaning of service. For, that, above all, is your greatest gift to us, among many great gifts you have given: a true lesson in love, sacrifice and commitment, taught by your example through these many years. It is our hope and sincere prayer that we may one day teach our own children in the way that you have taught us."

With love, honor and gratitude,

Your daughters - Rebecca & Bethany Nielson

While military service requires a tremendous sacrifice on the part of our families, it often enriches the lives of so many who are close to us. Every Airman in our service is living proof of this and I'm blessed to have served with them for the past 34 years.