This marks the 95th year that our nation celebrates Veterans Day, originally remembered as Armistice Day. It seems appropriate to think back to the early days of this commemoration as our nation continues to shrink its military forces to the lowest levels since before World War II.

Despite the withdrawal of ground forces from Iraq, our air forces continue to launch airstrikes against extremists in that area of the world. Since Desert Storm in 1990, through Operations Southern and Northern Watch and combat operations following 9/11, our airmen — officers, enlisted and civilians — have engaged in combat operations for nearly a quarter-century.

During those past 25 years, I have had the pleasure of serving our nation’s military members and their families as a USAA employee. Through every war and every humanitarian assignment that our nation has challenged our military, I have never ceased to be amazed at the courage and selfless sacrifice demonstrated by the members of all our armed forces.

Over the past year, I’ve had the privilege of serving as an honorary commander of the 306th Flying Training Group. I’ve learned first-hand that the training and discipline instilled in many of our Air Force leaders begin, in large part, right here at our Air Force Academy. Since the arrival of the first class of cadets in the 1950s, thousands of young people have come with anticipation of the great things they will learn at the Academy, and the great things they will achieve after graduation.

As an Air Force “brat,” I grew up very proud of my father, a chief master sergeant who flew more than 300 missions during the Vietnam War, and the airmen he served alongside. Every time I look up into the blue skies of Colorado Springs and see an Air Force Academy trainer or glider, it reminds me of my father and of our Air Force pilots and aces of old.

I can’t help but wonder if the young cadet learning to fly will one day become the next Air Force chief of staff. What I do know is that she or he will help form the foundation of our future Air Force.

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Young Americans who choose to pursue an education at one of our military academies do so knowing they could bear the responsibility of leading others in combat. Serving as the bedrock of that leadership is a deep sense of honor. At the Air Force Academy, that honor code states: “We will not lie, steal, or cheat, nor tolerate among us anyone who does.” That dedication to honor and integrity increases my pride in the young Americans who accept that honor code, particularly during this time of the year.

As we continue to share our city, land and airspace with the military installations in Colorado Springs, we risk taking for granted the freedoms we have and the liberties we enjoy.

It’s important that we take time, particularly during Veterans Day, to remember that we have institutions like the Air Force Academy, Fort Carson, Peterson Air Force Base and Schriever Air Force Base to train our future military officers to lead with honor and integrity.

If you happen to look up in the sky and see and hear some of our future military leaders learning to fly, just remember — and appreciate — what the sounds of those aircraft represent. Whether it is over the skies of our nation or the skies over a foreign land, the sounds of our military aircraft represent the first sounds our enemies will hear if they threaten our country.

They represent the sounds of freedom. Please take some time to thank a military member and tell her or him that you appreciate the sacrifices all of our military forces make, and take pride in the fact that many of our nation’s Air Force leaders get their start right here.

Happy Veterans Day, Colorado Springs!

Kent Fortune is vice president and general manager of USAA’s operations in Colorado Springs.