Leader Spotlight: Buck Cole
Veterans for American Ideals is recognizing veteran leaders who are continuing their service by building unity and standing up for American values. Through a series of interviews, we’re asking VFAI leaders to share more about how their service shaped them and what responsibility they feel veterans have to speak up on issues that relate to our national ideals.
Today’s interview is with Buck Cole, a U.S. Air Force veteran with a long family history of military service. Buck leads Vets for American Ideals’ local engagement in Austin, TX.
Tell me about your military service.
I enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in 1972 and served for a little over ten years as an aircraft analysis specialist, responsible for detecting and tracking information on aircraft performance. I served at Laredo AFB, TX; Clark AB, Philippines; Tinker AFB, OK; Aviano AB, Italy; and Bergstrom AFB, TX. I come from a military family of WWII, Korea, and Vietnam veterans so it was an easy decision to make. Besides, I had no money for college–and frankly, I wasn’t college ready! The GI Bill was a big pull, but love of country was instilled in me at an early age.
How did your service shape the person you are today?
Much of what I took away from my service had a lot to do with day-to-day discipline: know your role, get to your duty station on time, wear the uniform like you care, act professionally. It’s been 35 years since I discharged and I still check my gig line every morning. Crazy, right?
My military experience also introduced me to a wider world; a world much different than the one I grew up in. I saw beautiful country, ate great food, generally immersed myself as much as I could in other cultures. I also witnessed grinding poverty and human misery, and learned that except for the differences in their circumstances, those people were much like me. Although I have wonderful memories of actual service, it’s the places I lived and the friendships and cultural experiences that I remember most. I was privileged to serve my country and what we stand for. And yes, I finished college on the GI Bill.
As a veteran, what sort of responsibility do you feel to speak up on issues that relate to American ideals?
As veterans, it’s easy for us to just talk about our service experience. I think the majority of us rarely share why we serve, and unfortunately many of us seem to have forgotten that we served because we believe in the fundamental principles enumerated in the Constitution. We have forgotten when we were led into a room where the flag of our country and a copy of the Constitution were displayed and we raised our right hand and swore to defend its principles. We have to recapture and reinforce its rightful place in American society, and veterans should play a leading role in that effort.
Tell me about one issue related to those ideals that is of particular importance or concern to you right now. What are you doing about it?
The worldwide refugee crisis is at a breaking point. The situation is desperate. Through no fault of their own, these individuals are being displaced from the only homes they’ve ever known. Their future is bleak unless we help. It’s that simple. Within the last few months I’ve been able to meet and discuss this problem with leaders in the Austin, Texas community who have experienced this firsthand. Once the Austin Vets for American Ideals chapter gets a footing, my plan is to assist refugees in tangible ways; help in moving, finding accommodations, furniture, and anything else they might need to gain a footing in their new country. Advocating whenever and wherever we can.
What would you say to other veterans about the role that they can play in these issues as citizens?
I would tell other vets that your country calls you to serve once again, this time in service to our ideals of freedom and human dignity. Anyone who yearns to breathe free is an American at heart.