Service, heritage, duty -- why I serve

  • Published
  • By Maj. Sarah Schultz
  • 319th Mission Support Squadron
I have the great fortune to be the daughter of a veteran whose influence still resonates in my life today. My dad, Russ Daniels, joined the Navy at the age of 20 in 1950 and left his home town in Le Grande, Ore., as the Korean War kicked off. Several of his buddies were joining the effort, and he didn't want to be left out of the action. 

The Navy was right down his alley since he loved to travel and wanted to see the world. During four years of enlisted service he visited San Diego; Pearl Harbor and Honolulu, Hawaii; Yokosuka, Japan; Saigon, Vietnam; Bangkok, Thailand; and the waters surrounding Korea from which he and his shipmates bombarded the southward-charging communists with eight-inch guns. For myself, I found his stories fascinating and asked to hear them over and over. My dad's slides were even better than his stories, creating a virtual trip back through time to an equator-crossing ceremony on board the USS Rochester, the sinking of the USS Arizona in 1941, and standing shore patrol in Saigon. 

What I wondered most back then was what made him do all that in the first place and what it would be like to see all those places. I also couldn't help but notice how profoundly those four years affected my dad for the rest of his life. To this day, at age 76, he still gets together with his Navy buddies for a USS Rochester reunion every five years, and this was after only a four-year enlistment. My dad separated in 1954 as a petty officer 2nd class, married my mom, Stella, in December of that same year and turned a new page in his life. The love of our country and the desire to serve stayed in his blood, and he passed those feelings down to his kids and grandkids. 

Finally, after more than 13 years in the Air Force, I think I finally understand what drew him to the Navy and what continues to bring him and his shipmates together 50 years later. Time is life and the time you spend with others takes on more and more value as you understand how important your life is in relation to others. As a child, your friends come and go. It's rare to have the same childhood friends into your 30s. It is not often that young people understand life is priceless and the freedom to live your life as you choose within the confines of personal responsibility is not the "norm" on our planet. For some of us, something deep inside responds when freedom is mentioned. We sign up to serve our country, joining a select group of others who feel the same way. My dad knew he was becoming part of something much bigger than he was. He was putting his life on the line for his country without considering himself any more of a patriot than others. But he was. 

It my mind, it all boils down to this: my dad, without really intending to, taught me about the value of life, of other people and of the need to defend our nation. When I joined the Air Force in 1992, I wasn't sure of exactly what I was doing either. I knew it was something cool and would be a grand adventure. I knew that it had something to do with national defense, even though what I really wanted was to see the world and get an education. Even though I didn't know it then, what was stirring in my heart was the same thing that stirred my dad's heart in 1950 and has since grown stronger throughout his life. I had the desire to do the right thing, to have my life count for something and to somehow make things better. It doesn't necessarily take joining the military to do these things, but military service allows some of us to do something tangible for ourselves and the people we serve for and with. 

All of us who serve, or have served in the U.S. military have a bond. Whether or not we recognize it, we are part of something more important than ourselves - something we have chosen to do together. We are part of a massive, 225-year joint effort, where many have sacrificed everything to preserve the lives and freedom of others. 

I'm proud to join my dad in carrying on the defense of our country and to do my part joining many others in an adventure to ensure that what he fought for continues for centuries to come. 

And along the way, I'll get to see the world and get an education.