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The priceless reward of service – a simple thank you

"Rizzys Coin."  (U.S. Air Force photo/Samuel King Jr.)

"Rizzys Coin." (U.S. Air Force photo/Samuel King Jr.)

Chief Master Sgt. Thomas Westermeyer, 96th Air Base Wing command chief, receives a coin from 9-year-old "Rizzy" Wieser, (right) during the Eglin airshow April 10.  (Courtesy photo.)

Chief Master Sgt. Thomas Westermeyer, 96th Air Base Wing command chief, receives a coin from 9-year-old "Rizzy" Wieser, (right) during the Eglin airshow April 10. (Courtesy photo.)

EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- Some people question the value of service in our nation's military or whether we adequately compensate our warriors. I always remind our Airmen that the opportunity to serve our nation and a cause greater than ourselves is a priceless reward. I saw a concrete example of that priceless reward this weekend.

In the midst of Eglin's largest open house in its 75-year history, I paused to soak in the magnitude of the event. The open house planning team had worked for months to showcase our nation's warriors and their resources.

We were all exhausted from the first day of the show where the crowd of 80,000 was double previous attendance of any event at Eglin. As I sat in the bleachers I watched as an older man encouraged his young daughter to approach me.

"Rizzy" Wieser, a 9-year-old from south Florida, walked up to me, next to my own 9-year-old daughter. Rizzy paused in front of me and then crisply saluted me with her small hand and in a meek voice she said: "Thank you for being my soldier."

She then handed me a small golden coin -- a symbol in the military of recognition or appreciation. I returned her salute, thanked her, and presented her with a commander's coin in appreciation for her kindness.

Rizzy attended Eglin's 75th Anniversary Open House and Air Show with her coins engraved with "I Salute You." I later spoke to her father, a retired school teacher with no military experience.

He said he had taught his daughter the importance of freedom and the sacrifices made by the men and women in the military. He had begun three years ago by having Rizzy salute military members from their nearby Air Force base. He recently had begun having Rizzy provide the coins as well.

Rizzy saluted and coined a variety of military members Sunday, from the base commander to an Airman emptying trash cans. She did not recognize rank or service, but she did recognize the service that freedom demands. She did not know Eglin has 631 deployed warriors or Hurlburt Field lost two warriors in combat last week, but she knew how to say thank you.

Out of all of the 137,000 people that visited Eglin this weekend, Rizzy had the largest impact on me. Rizzy inspired and motivated countless warriors this weekend through her simple act of gratitude.

For those of us who choose to serve in the military profession, we can always look to the image of Rizzy for why we serve and who we serve. Whether it's hand delivered coins from a little girl named "Rizzy" or a few kind words from a passing stranger - the effervescent support of the nation sustains us through the best of times and worst of times because it is a priceless gift of gratitude.