I will have much to say about my Air Force years when the time is right.
Today, 03/02/06, I received my honorable discharge papers from the Air Force, just short of 22 years from the fall of 1984, the first time I put on an Air Force uniform as a freshman ROTC cadet at MIT, and just a few months short of my 40th birthday. The certificate reads:
“Honorable Discharge from the Armed Forces of the United States of America. This is to certify that Captain Erik J. Heels, USAFR, was Honorably Discharged from the United States Air Force on the 5th day of January, 2006. This certificate is awarded as a testimonial of Honest and Faithful Service. [SIGNED] Anne C. Shippy, Colonel, USAF, Commander. DD Form 256 AF 1 Nov 51. THIS IS AN IMPORTANT RECORD – SAFEGUARD IT!”
I have added an “Air Force” category to this weblog, and I may eventually change the domain name of this weblog to reflect the fact that it is morphing into more of a personal journal than strictly a commentary on law, technology, and their intersection (or law, baseball, and rock ‘n’ roll), which will still be the focus of my LawLawLaw newsletter. Or I may not change the domain name. I reserve the right to change my mind.
One thing that I did not change my mind about was my desire to stay in the Air Force until I was honorably discharged. I could have resigned my commission years ago, but to me that felt like going back on a promise. As it turned out, I spent the last 14 years (nearly) in the inactive reserves, which basically meant that I was at risk of being called up only in the event of a war.
For now, here are two pieces that illustrate what the Air Force meant (and still means) to me. The first was written by the Department of Defense, and it hung on my door senior year at MIT:
“I am an American fighting man. I serve in the forces which guard my country and our way of life. I am prepared to give my life in their defense.
I will never surrender of my own free will. If in command, I will never surrender my men while they still have the means to resist.
If I am captured I will continue to resist by all means available. I will make every effort to escape and aid others to escape. I will accept neither parole nor special favors from the enemy.
If I become a prisoner of war, I will keep faith with my fellow prisoners. I will give no information or take part in any action which might be harmful to my comrades. If I am senior, I will take command. If not, I will obey the lawful orders of those appointed over me and will back them up in every way.
When questioned, should I become a prisoner of war, I am required to give name, rank, service number, and date of birth. I will evade answering further questions to the best of my ability. I will make no oral or written statements disloyal to my country and its allies or harmful to their cause.
I will never forget that I am an American fighting man, responsible for my actions, and dedicated to the principles which made my country free. I will trust in my God and in the United States of America.
(Prepared by the Department of Defense.)”
The second was an email that I sent to friends and family on Veterans Day 2003:
“Veterans Day is an important day for me, even though I was both eager to begin and to end active duty in the military. I suspect other veterans share my feelings about their service. I have since concluded that, in this great country, although the military needs nobody, everybody needs the military. Even though there may be presidents, military leaders, and wars that we don’t agree with. In fact, on Veterans Day 2001, two months after 9/11, I contacted the Air Force JAG about returning to the Air Force National Guard or Reserves. I ended up not pursuing this option, but I have never resigned my commission and so I am still in the military, still carry my military ID, still believe in my patriotic principles.”
My patriotism has nothing to do with my political views – and everything to do with my political views. For the record, I have never been – and never will be – a member of any political party. I will have much to say about my Air Force years when the time is right. Many of you already know some of my stories. I now feel free to tell them.