Many of you have asked if my father, Charlie "Tremendous" Jones, served in the military. He did not; however, he was a 4-star Patriot. He loved this country as much as he loved Jesus, Gloria, his family, and life insurance. That's a tremendous amount!
Growing up, my father would tell me, "Tracey, you need to earn your stripes!" What he meant was that I needed to go out and make my way in the world. I could not just ride on someone else's coattails nor be successful without working my way up through the ranks. When I was in my late teens, he returned from giving a leadership speech to the cadets and staff at the New Mexico Military Institute in Roswell, NM. He brought back a pamphlet about the school, an Army-affiliated high school, and two-year college and laid it on the kitchen table. He told me that the kids that went there were going to make something of their lives.
Boom. That's all it took for me to begin the application process. I wanted to be successful in life, and I understood I needed to earn my stripes; so why not literally earn them? Before long, I arrived at the Sally Port quadrangle entrance and entered my new life in the Corps of Cadets. Since I already had a year of college under my belt, I graduated in 1984 with my Associate of Arts in one year. Many cadets then transitioned into the Army or the United States Military Academy in West Point, NY. But I had fallen in love with the western U.S., and when I heard that there was another service academy located in Colorado Springs, CO, I again jumped at the opportunity to earn more stripes.
Plus, I had an incredible passion for astronomy, and the thought of entering the United States Air Force Academy seemed like the perfect fit. So off I went to four more years of military schooling. Upon graduation and commissioning, I trained as an Aircraft Maintenance Officer on the F-16s stationed at Shaw AFB, SC. Almost a year and a half later, we got the call to deploy as one of the first in-theater units for Operation DESERT SHIELD/DESERT STORM. I was excited to earn more stripes! After all, I didn't go to military schools for five long years to sit on the sidelines.
After returning from the Middle East, I did tours in Europe and then back stateside, all while earning my stripes. When I separated from the military, I was a bit apprehensive because I thought, "how many people have an airfield with fighter jets that I can work on?" I had no idea how my "stripes" would translate to the civilian workforce, but I was about to find out.
The military taught me duty and conscientiousness. Aircraft maintenance taught me safety, production scheduling, quality assurance, and logistics. And my enlisted folks taught me how to be a good leader, how to trust my troops, and how to make decisions. I know from living all over the world how incredibly blessed we are in this country. As a global citizen speaking with those who need our help, I know how thankful people are when we are there to protect them. And I know how proud my parents were of me that I decided to earn my stripes.
I never knew I’d have the privilege to serve when I was growing up. That thought had never crossed my mind. But life’s like that. Sometimes the most significant opportunities haven't even entered the realm of possibility yet, and when they do, you say yes. I am so thankful for all the incredible people I served with and with whom I am still connected. I rest squarely in the bond that I have an unbreakable link with all those who have and are serving their nation.
And while many of us may not recognize the entity known as our Department of Defense in today's world, one thing we do know is the Spirit of the American Soldier. I can still cite verbatim the six precepts of conduct for U.S. combatants, and they mean as much to me today as they did when I wore the uniform.
1) 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.
2) 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.
3) 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.
4) 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.
5) When questioned, should I become a prisoner of war, I am bound to give only name, rank, service number, and date of birth. I will evade answering further questions to the utmost of my ability. I will make no oral or written statements disloyal to my country and its allies, or harmful to their cause.
6) 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.
May God bless and protect those who willingly put themselves in harm's way for the principles that built this great nation. This Veterans Day, we salute you!