The last few articles I have written for Rotary Reflections have focused on our motto of “Service Above Self”. This time, I was convinced it would be different. I had planned to write about a growing issue facing the leaders in this post-COVID environment – the employment market and using our core values to help grow high-quality teams.
Then, I attended a 4th grade Veterans Day assembly.
I sat in the crowd of parents listening to our children sing with the choir. I watched my son join in the celebration of our country’s heroes. It took a group of 9-year-olds to remind me of the meaning of service, family, freedom, and the sacrifice made by our veterans to this country. It was at that moment, I realized I had no choice but to talk about selfless service once again.
Although I didn’t serve in the military, I come from a family full of service men and women. Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, and even the Coast Guard. The Poarch family has worn each of these uniforms with pride. We grew up hearing stories about their time in the service. They would reminisce about the friendships, the challenges, the fears, and the pride that came along with serving their country. I looked up to each of them as heroes. Whether they served during war or peace, each of them will always be heroes.
I never really understood the extent of the sacrifices they made while serving others until a few years ago. That’s when I met Tom, a retired US Air Force officer who served his country both in peace time and at war, serving multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Like many Veterans, Tom wears his Air Force hat with pride and loves to tell stories of his time working at the White House, in Germany, Iraq, Afghanistan, and all the other places his duties took him. These were all the stories that put a big grin on his face as he recalled the memories, the ones he liked to remember and share with his friends. There were other stories though. Stories and memories that did not bring his signature warm smile. These are the stories that defined sacrifice and service beyond where my mind had taken me before. I now know the good and the not so good stories of his time serving our country. I know the names of several of his friends that didn’t come home. I also know that Tom is the epitome of a great Rotarian. He is always putting his service to others above himself.
The VA defines Veterans Day as: “A celebration to honor America’s veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good.” “Serve for the common good”, and “service above self” sound an awful lot alike, don’t you think? There is a deep rooted connection of service between our service members and ourselves, as Rotarians. One of the things I love and value most about being a Rotarian is the ability to serve our communities. We have the opportunity to serve through our annual project, bell ringing, donating dictionaries to third graders, etc… There are so many ways that I get to serve others. I may not have been in the military and will never have the stories like Tom, but we all get the honor of serving through Club 29.
To all of our Veterans, I say thank you for your past and present service! As Paul Harris said “Rotary changes us and those we serve. I believe we can change the world one life at a time.” Let’s all continue to change ourselves and the world.