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You could learn a lot from a veteran

WESTOVER AIR RESERVE BASE, Mass. - -- Sometimes, the people I meet and the stories I hear astound me.

As a C-5 Galaxy pilot, myself and the crew have the honor of meeting scores of men and women traveling in and out of our theater of operations in the Middle East and Southwest Asia. The men and women who I work with every day understand the importance of connecting with these brave souls. Sure, C-5 crews fly in and out of airfields all over the world, but for the most part, we're above the fray. Talking with our passengers gives us the opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of our great military.

On a recent mission, we had the honor of meeting an Airman from Philadelphia -- we'll call him "Philly" for short. Philly just completed a six-month deployment in Iraq as a dog handler. He and his dog were assigned to a Forward Operating Base outside of Baghdad, where they conducted daily sweeps to seek out weapons caches used by enemy forces.

His unit would identify areas worthy of sending a team to "secure the area" and search for weapons and explosives. Philly and his dog would enter the zone once ground forces entered and declared the area secure.

Though the area was declared secure, the nature of the asymmetric operations means one must stay alert at all times because seconds are precious when an enemy could be lurking nearby.

I was fascinated by his stories, as were many of our crew members on headset listening to the realities of war. Ultimately, I wonder how he would transition to life stateside. Would he let his guard down? Would he look at a person the same as he did in Iraq where he was trying to identify a suicide bomber? Would he go back to Iraq or opt out of the military?

Philly didn't hesitate to say he believes his training kept him alive. He knows he can survive in Iraq and knows he's good at his job, therefore, he feels obligated to return to service.

So the question of transitioning was not the question he wanted to answer. Philly wanted to ask his boss how to maintain his level of proficiency so he is ready for the next deployment.

Philly's life is now changed forever. He will always think about potential threats at home and abroad. He was trained to defend himself and others from the very real threat of a suicide bomber and improvised explosive devices, and he now feels a sense of responsibility to his country to return.

In the spirit of the holidays, let's take a moment to give thanks to our veterans in our communities and hear the sacrifices they've made.