For Airmen, extraordinary things happen every day

The U.S. Honor Guard Drill Team performs as part of the team's Summer Drill Series July 11 at the World War II Memorial in Washington. The team will perform around the National Capitol Region until July 29. For more information about the 2008 performances, logon to www.honorguard.af.mil/drillteam/. (U.S Air Force photo by Senior Airman Alexandre Montes)

The U.S. Honor Guard Drill Team performs as part of the team's Summer Drill Series July 11 at the World War II Memorial in Washington. The team will perform around the National Capitol Region until July 29. For more information about the 2008 performances, logon to www.honorguard.af.mil/drillteam/. (U.S Air Force photo by Senior Airman Alexandre Montes)

OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. (AFNS) -- As military members, most of us understand we're a part of something special. I'm not sure I realized the full reality of just how unique our profession is until I stepped away from it. I didn't stay away long, but when I returned, it was with a new sense of appreciation.

I served almost 10 years on active duty, but currently enjoy the privilege of serving part-time in the Air Force Reserve as an individual mobilization augmentee. My full-time career is in the private sector working for a large financial management corporation. Experiencing both careers side-by-side has allowed me to view my military experience in a new light and deepened my gratitude for the time I spend on active duty.

While I thoroughly enjoy my civilian job and have enormous respect for my co-workers, I'm convinced the business world falls far short when it comes to leadership and taking care of people. I say this not to disparage.

Clearly what we do in the military is unique and to expect as much from a nonmilitary organization is setting a very high standard. Each of us is taught a culture of "service before self" from our earliest days in basic training, and this is something very hard to translate into the business world.

Here are just a few examples of the uniqueness of our profession I've witnessed:

-- While serving in support of Operation Joint Guardian in the mid-90s, the vice chairman of the joint chiefs came to visit us during the holidays. The general learned that one of my team members recently lost a family member, but was unable to get home. The general quietly sought out the bereaved servicemember and ensured he was on his personal helicopter and plane to the states. It was a small thing for the general to do, but it had a big impact on the servicemember and to those of us who witnessed it.

-- A few years ago, I was planning to attend a conference at Langley Air Force Base, Va. My physical training test was due, and since I was going to be on orders, it was a good time to take the test. I notified the senior individual mobilization augmentee, a colonel, in Air Combat Command contracting, that I'd be testing at Langley AFB. When I showed up to test, I was surprised to see the colonel there in PT gear. He wasn't due to test, he simply felt it was his duty to personally provide me a wingman to run with. It was a small thing, but I still appreciate the leadership he showed.

-- Recently, my first sergeant told me of the status on his efforts to prepare a squadron member for career development testing. He quizzed the Airman on possible test questions and as a result of their joint efforts, the young man is not only prepared to pass the test, but is also in a position to excel.

We take this type of thing for granted in the military, but I'm compelled to celebrate it as special when you compare it to other professions. The dedication military members feel to ensure subordinates are mentored and prepared for career advancement is a small thing to many, but I'm convinced it's a treasure of our profession.

-- The sounding of retreat and the playing of the national anthem on base at the end of the duty day is something I tell my friends and civilian co-workers at home about. I'm not sure they understand, but I look forward to that loud-speaker. It reminds me of where I am and how good it is to be here. It's one more small thing I miss when I return home to my civilian career.

Whether it's a simple order from a general to make room for a grieving servicemember, the first sergeant showing concern for his Airmen or the simple daily routine of playing the national anthem, once you've left the Air Force for your next chapter in life, you will one day look back and find what was once a routine experience is now viewed as an extraordinary occurrence. These small things are what make the profession we chose so very special.