The most rewarding aspect of his 35-year career in the U.S. Air Force was serving with America’s finest men and women who are committed to a greater cause, those who’d say “Here am I, send me,” Lt. Gen. Noel “Tom” Jones, USAF (ret) told Winnfield Rotarians at their Sept. 30 meeting.
This trait of service above self is unfortunately uncommon in the general population today, he noted but commented that he did find a parallel in Rotary which has “Service Above Self” as its motto. He found online that Rotary is friends, leaders and problem-solvers who see a world where people unite and take action to create lasting change. “That’s largely how I view my time in uniform.”
Jones is one of four sons of Col. Lem Jones, USAF (ret) and his wife Margaret of Coushatta. All four served in the military. Three were Air Force. Two rose to the rank of general. Col. Jones was a fighter pilot during the Vietnam era at a time when the nation had some 2.3 million men and women in the armed services. That number is now closer to 1.2 million. During the same period, active service numbers in the USAF have dropped from 1 million to 320,000.
While the nation’s military may be smaller, they are busier, doing a lot around the world. They protect the American people and critical infrastructure. They defend U.S. national interests and respond to incidents that occur. They help in other nations around the world and at home are providing hurricane relief, flood relief, fire suppression, homeland defense and border security.
Challenges are seen around the world today as we continue to fight ISIS and our troops have been in the Middle East for 20 years, the European Union is under stress, China is a peer competitor while Russia resurges. We as a nation are divided with political, racial and socio-economic rifts. Jones suggested we may have to rethink how and what we do.
Since Vietnam, the American military has been all-volunteer, meaning that the servicemen and women are more committed but costs are higher, the speaker indicated. “But they’re not doing it for the money. The wages are livable but it’s not a financial windfall.” A new Airman makes about $2,000 per month plus some extra for housing and dependents. A lieutenant makes around $3,000.
The numbers are not large. Today there are some 1.3 million in active duty with another 750,000 in the Guard and Reserve. This translates to less than half of one percent of the U.S. population. At the same time, our all-volunteer military may be better prepared as 40% of the general population would not be eligible due to educational and/or health and physical requirements.
A few USAF points in last year alone: (1) 98,000 air strikes made against ISIS, (2) 6 satellite constellations operated with 12 independent satellite systems including GPS for the entire world, (3) 1 billion pounds of fuel transferred during aerial refueling with no mishaps, (4) 5,000 patients safely medevaced from areas all around the world, both in combat and in peace.
“I’m in awe of the service they do,” Jones said of a “young” Air Force. About 40% of those enlisted are 24 and younger while the average age is 28. Average age of officers is 35.
“What can you do?” concluded General Jones. “Continue to support them…emotionally, politically and spiritually. Remind your communities of their sacrifices. Don’t take them for granted. Like you, they are taking action to create change for the better.”
The Rotary Club of Winnfield meets every Wednesday at Noon for lunch at Lynda’s Country Kitchen. For more information about the Rotary Club of Winnfield, you may contact President, Jodi Taylor (832) 573-5085. You can also find club information on Facebook at Rotary Club of Winnfield Facebook Page or online at Rotary.org.