Community involvement doesn't have to be local

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Samuel Morse, 35th Fighter Wing public affairs NCO in charge of community relations, speaks about his experiences to eighth grade students at Illing Middle School, Manchester, Conn., Sept. 29, 2010. The students were reading Greg Mortenson's book, "Three Cups of Tea," a book about a man's struggles while building schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Sergeant Morse talked about the rewards and challenges of living in Japan and Afghanistan, and gave a short journalism workshop for interested students. (Courtesy Photo)

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Samuel Morse, 35th Fighter Wing public affairs NCO in charge of community relations, speaks about his experiences to eighth-grade students at Illing Middle School, Manchester, Conn., Sept. 29, 2010. The students were reading Greg Mortenson's book, "Three Cups of Tea"; the book is about a man's struggles while building schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Sergeant Morse talked about the rewards and challenges of living in Japan and Afghanistan, and gave a short journalism workshop for interested students. (Courtesy Photo)

MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan -- As Airmen, we all know staying involved in our community is important. It's part of our performance reports, and a big part of our culture. Our volunteerism benefits the Misawa community, but does it have to end there?

My sister is an eighth grade English teacher in Manchester, Conn. The town is far from large military bases, with only a handful of Army National Guard members in the area. Unlike military communities, these children aren't used to seeing our Airmen, and don't know what we do.

My sister's students have been reading Greg Mortenson's book, "Three Cups of Tea." It's a book about persevering in Pakistan and Afghanistan to build schools for communities in need. Sound familiar? The book ties so heavily into our mission that it has become mandatory reading for counterinsurgency training and special operations. Having deployed to Afghanistan myself and visited an Afghan village, my sister asked me to speak to her class about what Afghanistan is like as well as the challenges of living in a foreign country like Japan.

Sure, this meant I spent a day of leave in blues and giving presentations that took a few hours to put together. However, the impact I had on those children's lives is something worth noting. My sister told me students were talking about my presentation for days after I gave it, still trying to pronounce some of the Japanese words I taught them. While the oddities of living in Japan stuck in their minds the most, they also learned that we have Airmen around the world, doing jobs not everyone realizes, and that we're making a difference. I was also able to connect them to what they were doing in class in a much more personal way, which will hopefully lead them to be more worldly and informed as they grow up to be the decision makers of tomorrow.

While it wasn't a "vacation" that day, I'd say it was one of the most important and fulfilling days of my leave. Next time you visit your home, don't be afraid to represent your Air Force and give back to the community that raised you. You never know what impact you might have.