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What an honor to serve

F. E. Warren AFB, Wyo. -- More than a year ago, my nephew was serving in Iraq when an enemy sniper killed a comrade. My nephew carried his body to a priest for final sacraments, although my nephew is not Catholic and he must have known that the man in his arms was already dead.

Several months ago, I attended the funeral for one of my Airmen. I had the honor of presenting the American flag to her mom. I was amazed when her family and friends started chanting a Buddhist phrase as the flag was folded in her memory. I offered up incense with her family later that day as we hummed words I did not know at a temple.

Shortly after, my Jewish friend and fellow Air Force officer invited my family and me over to celebrate the Passover Seder meal in remembrance of the Israelite exodus from Egypt. What a wonderful experience as we took turns reading passages from the Torah to recall that time in history.

I attended a memorial for another Airman who passed away while serving our country in Kuwait. The presiding minister was a Catholic Monsignor and the service had a Catholic feel. I prayed with his family and friends as we honored his short life.

I also attended the Native American heritage celebration and danced with warriors representing several tribes who had different religious beliefs than my own. The leader spoke of the tremendous contributions Native Americans have made to our great nation and how they are revered in their community. Indeed, anyone who serves in the armed forces is treated with great respect and dignity.

These experiences have had a profound impact on me. Our religious beliefs are so important to our warrior culture that it is incumbent upon each of us to learn, understand and respect the beliefs of those who serve with us. How can we be good wingmen if we do not understand the faith of our brothers and sisters in arms? I ask each of you to take some time this holiday season to learn about the beliefs your fellow Airmen hold dear. You will better serve them in their time of need, and even at their death, once you know what their soul yearns for most. Perhaps William Shakespeare said it best, when he wrote the Battle of Agincourt: "We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; for he today that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile."