A leader for our times

GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- As is my custom around this time of year, the focus of my leisure reading gravitates towards the birth of our nation, the ideas which formed it and the personalities who gave substance to those ideas.

Ideas are most purely expressed by the actions of those who support them and it would be difficult to say that any man more embodied the ideas which formed our nation than George Washington - our nation's first overall commander of troops in the field and our first President.

A visionary leader has a clear, encompassing and far-reaching set of ideas which sustain the cause in which he is involved. These ideas remain constant no matter how long it takes and regardless of the difficulties encountered. For such a leader, there should be consistency between the means used to achieve the goals of the cause and the values which formed the cause in the first place - values like preferring service before self, always being faithful, personal courage and a commitment to care for the professional, personal and spiritual well-being of your people. George Washington was a visionary leader who portrayed such values in both his private and public life, from the crucible of Valley Forge to the vaulted halls of Mount Vernon.

When you read Washington's public speeches, his personal correspondence and what others wrote about him, they consistently confirm his closely-guarded values and his unfailing application of them in all parts of his life. This consistency of character enabled him to inspire others to remain with the cause of liberty even at the darkest of times. His good character enabled him to implant in others the ideas and values of the revolutionary cause so that they achieved feats well beyond their own expectations - like the victory at Trenton when many soldiers were ready to leave.

He faced the realities of short-term enlistments, desertions, very poorly clad and equipped soldiers, and a reluctant Congress which contributed to his soldiers' hardships. There were dark days, but he stayed the course and saw it through to victory.

While faithfully standing between the privations of his suffering troops encamped at Valley Forge and a stubborn Congress, he wrote to his family of the great hope this new nation would bring to the world when it emerged as an industrious and faithful trade partner - as it did under his later presidency. All the while, he must have realized that hard years of war and suffering lay between that vision of prosperity and the frozen, bloody rags which served as boots for some of his troops.

After the frigid crossing of the Delaware and the 1776 battle at Trenton on Christmas Day, many of the soldiers were ready to leave because their enlistments were up. Washington appealed to them to step forward and stay with him in this noble cause. Hesitantly at first, but then almost completely, the soldiers stepped forward and remained. On that fateful day, his faithful service and consistent character saved the Continental Army and the revolutionary cause. Even now, the future of our nation depends on Americans practicing the character so consistent in George Washington's personal and public life.

Amidst all the fireworks, food, family and friends this time of year, it's worthwhile to reflect on those Founding Fathers who pledged to each other their lives, fortunes and sacred honor with almost certainty that they were risking those very things when they signed the Declaration of Independence. Remembering their commitment and sacrifice gives us a firmer grasp on the ideas and values behind the Constitution we are sworn to defend with our own lives, the bright light of hope it still represents for oppressed and suffering people around the globe, and the importance of living up to the personal, professional and public values which built our great nation. Be safe and take responsibility for each other as you celebrate our nation's birth.