ARLINGTON, Va. — The melodic pings of my phone alarm pulled me out of a quickly forgotten dream and into the reality that was 4:30 a.m.

For just a moment, I wrestled with the idea of hitting “snooze” and grabbing a few extra minutes of sleep — a few minutes that could very easily turn into an hour.

“Get up, Jo,” I said to myself as I slid out of bed, careful not to disturb my husband, Rahn. After 27 years of service in the U.S. Army, he has definitely earned his sleep — and, of course, his time on the golf course. Being a military family through and through, the early mornings, missed meals, long days and time away from each other has weighed heavy at times. However, I wouldn’t change any of it for the world.

I put on my running shoes and reflective belt and braced myself for the morning chill of early November.

Truth be told, I love this time of the morning — especially when I’m on an Air Force base. Even at this hour, there is still a buzz: some people coming on shift, some people leaving to go home. There’s a rhythm about it that I never thought I would come to appreciate, but I do. After nearly three decades in our Air Force, I’ve found that many of the things I took for granted as a young airman are some of the things I treasure today. As I ran, I thought about those who came before me; the path they walked and the obstacles they had to overcome.

I thought about my father, a retired warrant officer in the Army. I remember the day he enlisted me into the Air Force. I’m not sure he knew, because I sure didn’t, the chain of events he set in motion that day. All I knew was I was joining to do four quick years, get my GI Bill, and move on to live my best life. My dad always told me that four years never hurt anybody.

Twenty-nine years later, I’m still trying to figure out what four years he was talking about (smile). I can say for certain, that throughout the years my definition of service has changed dramatically. As an airman, service to me meant simply doing my job. It wasn’t until I was an NCO that I started seeing service as something bigger. Now, at the twilight of my career, I have found a strong appreciation for all of our airmen who raise their right hand to serve our great nation.

“A veteran is someone who, at one point in their life, wrote a blank check made payable to ‘The United States of America’ for an amount up to and including their life.”

That quote has always stuck with me. Service is that blank check that only 1 percent of all Americans volunteer to do. We are an all-volunteer force. We choose a path that isn’t always easy, which is why I have a deep appreciation for all of our more than 19 million veterans and their families, who serve alongside them.

These veterans are the giants who came before us, built the foundation and then pointed the way forward. They have served and sacrificed so much for our nation. They are heroes, for whom I am eternally grateful. It is not just Veterans Day that we honor our service members, it is every day. Every day is an opportunity to recognize those Americans who have given a part of themselves to serve our nation. Every day is an opportunity to remember what it means to wear the cloth of our nation.

“We remember those who were called upon to give all a person can give, and we remember those who were prepared to make that sacrifice if it were demanded of them in the line of duty, though it never was,” President Ronald Reagan said. “Most of all, we remember the devotion and gallantry with which all of them ennobled their nation as they became champions of a noble cause.”

And as I rounded the last corner on my morning run, and saw the U.S. flag hanging proudly in front of my home, I couldn’t help but smile — thinking of all the veterans I have had the privilege to serve alongside. They accepted a great duty and responsibility to defend our homeland, and we are all better for their service.

Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force JoAnne S. Bass is the service’s top enlisted leader. Raised as an Army dependent, she entered the Air Force in 1993 and has held a variety of leadership positions at the squadron, group, wing and major command levels. She has significant joint service and special operations experience and has participated in several operations and exercises as well as deployments in direct support of Operations Southern Watch, Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.

Editor’s note: This is an Op-Ed and as such, the opinions expressed are those of the author. If you would like to respond, or have an editorial of your own you would like to submit, please contact Air Force Times Editor Kent Miller, kmiller@militarytimes.com.

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