Where we came from: Why our history is important

DYESS AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- As an historian, I've often received one of two responses: Either, "Man, I hated history so much" or "Historian? I'm a history buff myself. Did you see that program on airplanes in WWII?"

Unfortunately, that is often the extent of people's experience with history. We live in an interesting time: the world is more connected than ever before and it will only continue that trend; information is often available within seconds of when we need it. Yet, as a society, we often forget where we came from and how we got here.

Historically speaking, the United States is relatively new; many of our historical areas are focused on the East Coast. Americans often have a much different relationship with the past than, say, Europeans. In Europe, history is everywhere. There are still buildings standing from 3,000 years ago. You will have buildings from the Roman Empire down the street from a Gothic cathedral, next to a glass skyscraper. Without that easy access to history, many Americans don't place much importance on it. What came before is okay to replace, because what comes next is better. It's a cycle that can very easily destroy the story of our existence.

It is easy to ignore our past. Sometimes we don't want to remember terrible things that happened; sometimes we don't even know they did. I challenge you to make yourselves more aware of where we came from. Go visit the 12th Armored Division Museum, Frontier Texas or Buffalo Gap. Make a trip of seeing the National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg, Texas. Go see the Sixth Floor Museum about the JFK assassination in Dallas. These are just some of the fantastic attractions that are within easy driving distance. Visit points of interest when you go to a temporary duty location or are deployed. There is always something close by if you only you look.

The human story is the most compelling drama you could possibly read. You can find people who inspired millions to do great things or people who want to only destroy everything around them. History isn't just world leaders, kings and wars. History is a little girl in Afghanistan who didn't let a bullet stop her dream of equal education. History is a nun from Albania who spent her life serving the poor in India. History is what you do on a daily basis, no matter how trivial you think it may be.

Take a new approach in 2014: read a history book. There will be something that can interest anyone: Western history, European, Asian, military, political, economic, you name it. I have a collection of books in my office here at the headquarters building should anyone want to borrow one. If I don't have what you're looking for, I'd be happy to try searching for a good option.

An appreciation for history has opened up new worlds for me. It is so easy to see the connection with my community, my country and the entire world when you understand what came before. It inspires me to look at the impact I'll leave, whether it eventually becomes a historically-defining moment or just the lessons I'll leave my three daughters. What you do will influence somebody, somewhere, in some way. I challenge you to learn about those who have influenced us.