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Honoring our nation's flag: privilege, not burden

LAUGHLIN AFB, TEXAS -- I see it all the time, on every military base I've ever been. Members of all services, our Department of Defense civilians, military contractors, family members and members of our local communities do it.

Without exception, it always amazes me because of all the responsibilities we have as military members, and for that matter as Americans, this is one of the easiest to meet. All it takes is a couple minutes of your time. I have to admit that early on, I was guilty of this too.

No, I'm not talking about putting on your seatbelt, although that is vitally important. I'm referring to rendering appropriate respect to the enduring symbol of this great country, our flag.

It always starts the same, a brisk walking pace, sometimes even moving at a trot, nervous glances at watches trying to determine just how much time they really have.

Then comes the call to colors, the musical preamble before the national anthem is played. If they're lucky, they can duck into a building or a vehicle and be relieved of the terrible burden of standing at attention and rendering respect to the symbol of all those who've served before us and those who've made the ultimate sacrifice.

In some places there is some humor in this. At Tripler Army Medical Center in Honolulu, Hawaii, the call to colors is actually the call to the post - the same little tune you hear right before a horse race.

I'd always chuckle to myself when I heard this, hoping it caused one person to realize what they were running from and make the choice to stop, turn toward the flag and render due respect.

I'm not sure exactly when this changed from being a nuisance for me and became an act of honor, but it was sometime during my second assignment at Yokota Air Base, Japan.

One day, it dawned on me I was serving the greatest country in the world, in the greatest Air Force in the world, and it became a source of pride to get "caught" by retreat.

I've had the opportunity to stand retreat in locations all over the world. In times where I might have been doubting my contributions or my service, I'd make it a point to push myself to the flagpole for retreat.

Take a few minutes to use the opportunity to re-blue and remind myself why I serve.

So next time you're heading out of the office, time it so you get "caught" by retreat and pay homage to this great country and all those who served before and set the example for those who will follow.