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August 2012, The Pentagon. I had just reported for duty on what would become my last assignment in uniform. Gen. Mark Welsh had just taken over as Air Force chief of staff. Having recently served in Germany, I was very familiar with him; he was the commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe for part of my tour there, and I’d heard him speak on numerous occasions.
It’s often said that if we don’t study our own history, we will be doomed to repeat it. This is probably true, mainly because we can learn great lessons from it and use them in our own lives to grow. Twenty years in uniform taught me a great deal; there’s very little substitute for on-the-job training and experience to help with personal or professional growth, but about halfway through my career, I started asking questions that transcended what was happening to me day to day. How did we get here? Who came before me? Professional Military Education revealed some things, but it always felt distant and watered down. What if I dug deeper? What could I glean from learning the politics and individual experiences of the soldier on the ground? Could I apply it?
In early December, I had the humbling honor of being connected with a former Marine named Hershel "Woody" Williams, a World War II Medal of Honor recipient. Williams, a man with blood ties to the American Revolution, participated in combat on a rock called Iwo Jima in 1945, and I might not have paid as much attention to his incredible story had it not been for my own roots in our nation’s birth. It turns out that as direct descendants of Revolutionary War soldiers, both Woody Williams and I are able to claim membership in the National Society of the Sons of the American Revolution.
Flying machines have only been around for a little over 100 years, but the state of human aviation as a military discipline has always been dynamic. The U.S. Army adopted airplanes in 1907 under the Aeronautical Division, Signal Corps, but the uniformed piloting of airplanes has never been without controversy.
Most people haven’t heard of an elderly Belgian-Congolese nurse named Augusta Chiwy. But students of history know that adversity and dread can turn on a dime into freedom and change, and it’s often the most humble and little-known individuals who are the drivers of it.
The military-Hollywood marriage has generated some of the best entertainment since the dawn of motion pictures, and has inspired many to dig deeper into the stories of the real human drama they depict. If you’re a film buff like me, a lot of movies come to mind that epitomize this relationship --- “Fury,” “Letters From Iwo Jima,” “Flags of our Fathers,” and incredible miniseries such as “Band of Brothers” and “The Pacific,” to name a few. Other people may think of “Saving Private Ryan,” one of the best war films of all time, or Ken Burns’ “Civil War” and “The War” documentaries. There are also productions that are entertaining, although not terribly accurate historically, such as “Lone Survivor” and “American Sniper.” In these projects, characters --- often based on real-life service members --- are portrayed by actors.