WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. -- For the last several years, I have come to Whiteman Air Force Base for two days every month and two weeks every summer. However, I've never felt that I am making a difference in the world.
I joined the military to be a part of something bigger. I wanted to enlist Sept. 11, 2001. I spoke with an Army recruiter that very day. I wanted to go get the bad guys. My parents recommended I get my degree and go in as an officer.
Even after I got my degree, I didn't join. I put the decision off for another 11 years.
In 2012, I brought up to my wife that I still felt compelled to be a part of that something bigger. We talked about it and agreed it was time for me to enlist.
I joined the Air National Guard and was assigned a role in Public Affairs. I would not be holding a weapon actively engaging the terrorists. Instead, I'd be holding a camera and writing stories. It was a good compromise for me since I had the added responsibility of being a parent to two young girls.
Now, four years into my career, I still feel that I'm not making a direct impact in the military. But, maybe I've been wrong in that conclusion.
Last month, I had the chance to attend U.S. Strategic Command's 2016 Nuclear Deterrence and Assurance Symposium near Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska. The symposium was a collaboration of military, civic, business and academic leaders from 14 countries, brought together to discuss nuclear deterrence - something we pride ourselves on here at Whiteman.
I was interested in attending the event because I was curious to learn how I - a senior airman with the Missouri Air National Guard - fit into this much bigger picture.
In his opening remarks to the 650 attendees, U.S. Navy Adm. Cecil Haney, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, addressed this concern directly. He recognized the importance of young servicemen and women in the nuclear deterrence mission. He said that it is vital for us to engage in the forum and with experts so that we are prepared for key decisions and leadership roles in the future.
"The nature of deterrence is more complex. There are multiple actors now, which makes it harder to predict. Information gets distorted and it reduces leaders' decision space from days to hours," added U.S. Army Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, commander of U.S. European Command and NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe, and a keynote speaker at the event. He touched on a lot of the intricacies, pivotal changes in the security environment and the shift from "assurance to deterrence."
But Gen. Scaparrotti said something else that stuck with me.
"Our credibility is key to our capability."
I thought to myself, "That's it. If we are going to protect our allies and deter our enemies from nuclear engagement, we must be credible."
In 2014, I covered Whiteman's 131st and 509th Bomb Wing Airmen as they took part in the Air Force Global Strike Challenge. Our Airmen mentioned to me that they studied hard in preparation, and performed their jobs year-round to ensure that the annual competition was just another day to them. They won the Challenge that year, and again the next year.
Then in March of this year, our total force Airmen participated in Constant Vigilance 16. It was the first time drill-status Air National Guard Airmen took part in the exercise. Full Guard participation by its part-time Citizen-Airmen was a major and final milestone called for in the Secretary of the Air Force's Integration Plan in 2006, and of a 131st-509th memorandum of understanding for total-force integration of the B-2 mission at Whiteman.
We have won the coveted Fairchild Trophy a record number of times. Whiteman is consistently visited by Air Force and Department of Defense leaders who want to hear about the total force integration success at this base.
Operation after operation, exercise after exercise, event after event, our Airmen are excellent. We are credible. Whether that credibility is seen or unseen, Whiteman Airmen do their jobs exceptionally well.
The B-2 flies to air shows and performs missions like those currently taking place from abroad in Guam. The power of the stealth is conveyed to the globe as we display the aircraft and its weaponry in Europe or Asia. The credibility of the jet and of our team is there for the world to see.
But, our credibility is also in what is unseen. Not unlike the stealth capability of the B-2, Whiteman Airmen are quiet professionals. Yes, we win trophies and we'll celebrate accordingly, but that success doesn't make the headline news of national television.
"I am impressed with the quality of questions from our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines and how thoughtfully engaged they are in the mission," Adm. Haney said. "Whether they are in a launch control center or maintaining a B-52 or a B-2, our successes may not be noticed. If we stay unseen, that is a success."
Adm. Haney's comment touches on credibility. If our U.S. service members are not in the news for the way we conduct ourselves - negatively speaking of course - that also sends a clear message to our adversaries: it tells them, by the professionalism of our conduct, that we are a credible threat. And, those adversaries should tread carefully in attacking us or our allies.
Whiteman Airmen are hard-working, diligent and professional. Just like the B-2's stealth capability allows it to remain unseen, our Airmen's professionalism and their excellence allows us to remain unseen.
Both our seen successes and our unseen professionalism alike - by Airmen in all Air Force specialties -contribute to our credibility on the national stage. I'm responsible for telling that story, because if the world doesn't know about it, how then are we capable of deterring another nuclear power? I challenge you to consider this if you ever doubt your contributions to the effectiveness of history's most effective fighting force, as I once did.
If you turn a wrench, inspect a small piece of equipment on the jet, feed the troops, ensure we get paid, take pictures of Airmen, administer health evaluations, build or maintain our facilities, or do any other of the hundreds of jobs and roles and tasks necessary to execute the Whiteman mission; you do, indeed, play a role in nuclear deterrence.