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Commentary: Honoring those millions who suffered through Auschwitz 70 years ago

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Glenn Rineheart
  • 36th Mobility Readiness Squadron commander
One of the distinct privileges that most service members will have during their Air Force careers is the opportunity to live abroad and be immersed in a foreign culture. 
Many Airmen will be stationed at an overseas location while others will only be able to visit these locations while on temporary duty.

Nevertheless, any time outside the boarders of the United States is an invaluable experience not only in developing our understating of our foreign partner's culture, customs, and national interests, but in developing a heightened awareness of the influence our country has over others as a symbol of hope and stability.  Airmen living and traveling abroad witness firsthand the absence of certain liberties, safeguards, and services we have grown accustomed to in the United States, underscoring that we're blessed to be Americans.

During every Airmen's period abroad there will be at least one time, if not several, when "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" will gain greater significance.  They'll don their uniforms the next day, check themselves in the mirror, and find themselves standing a little more straight and a little more confident that they have chosen the right profession for themselves -not job, trade or occupation...  profession.  For many Airmen, that image in the mirror may have first appeared to them on September 12, 2001.  For myself, I've had one more event in particular that I carry within me, reminding me daily how fortunate I am to be an American Airman.

The event occurred in the winter of 2004 while I was TDY to Krakow, Poland performing a two-week mission.  During a free afternoon, my crew and I took the opportunity to visit the local area as we did during previous mission stops.  However, this time it was not to visit a cosmopolitan area or shopping market, but to visit one of the worst sites in the history of humanity, Auschwitz. The largest of Nazi Germany's concentration camps during World War II, Auschwitz was the site of roughly 1,049,000 Jewish, Polish, Soviet, and Gypsy deaths with the Jewish community accounting for 960,000 of them - 232,000 being children.

During our visit our tour guide left no detail of torture, cruelty, and murder to our imagination.  From the prisoner arrival process where children were forever stripped from their parents, wives forever stripped from their husbands, to the selection process where officers of the Third Reich would determine which prisoners were either fit to work in pitiful conditions or immediately stripped of their clothes, eye glasses, and prosthetic limbs then marched to massive gas chambers.  Later these victims would be cremated in massive furnaces which were loaded and operated in some cases by family members of those gassed.

Needless to say, I left Auschwitz that afternoon numb with shock, sick to my stomach, and depressed with tremendous sorrow for the Holocaust victims and their families.  As the shock later faded, it was replaced with stirring resolve - that as a member of humanity we can never allow this atrocity to ever happen again. I also couldn't help but to feel blessed along with a deep sense of obligation.  Blessed - to be a citizen of a country where my only limits are those set by my own desires to succeed. Obligation - to vigorously defend our liberties from the restraints of tyranny, securing our way of life, and serving as an example and beacon of hope for those less fortunate. 

As American Airmen, we are the chosen few privileged to serve our nation's Air Force, the greatest the world has ever known. As American Airmen, our profession charges us with the responsibility to hold tyrants accountable while delivering security and sanctuary to those in distress at home all around the globe. Despite field of expertise or rank, we all have a key role in the employment of air power in the defense of the ideals set forth by our forefathers. We each are charged to perform these roles to the best of our ability in order to add velocity to our capabilities, ultimately delivering hope. 

"All mankind waits upon our decision. A whole world looks to see what we
will do. We cannot fail their trust, we cannot fail to try
" - July 15, 1960,

Address of Senator John F. Kennedy Accepting the Democratic Party Nomination
for the Presidency of the United States, Memorial Coliseum, Los Angeles.

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