The right thing to do

GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE, Texas --

Last week, while I was a spectator at an informal discussion between a senior officer and several of our young students, one particular student inspired me. These students had been selected from among their peers for excellent performance and this discussion was part of the recognition custom. It was my turn as a commander to participate in their recognition, accompanying the students as they were honored.

What I first thought (selfishly) would be an interruption to my busy schedule turned out to be an unexpected pleasure. The alteration of my attitude began as the senior officer hosting the discussion asked a purposefully probing question of the students, to the effect "Why do you think you have been selected for this honor?"

I became quite interested in just how these young warriors-in-training would tackle this important question. All of the answers were good, but one stood out for being particularly so. His answer was a reminder of some past lessons - and this coming from one of our youngest students.

In essence, he stated that he was not expecting to be recognized and that he was surprised by the honor. He just sought to do his best, make good choices, and to not do so for any other reason than because it was the right thing to do. He wasn't seeking to be recognized. Listening to the humble responses of this highly-studied, highly-skilled, and hard-working young warrior, I came to realize that he has a true sense of duty to his country and just wants to carry it out. My hope for a better future for our county just went up a notch.

At the present, the United States is locked in multiple conflicts which do not comfortably fit the typical models of past wars. The front lines extend from the dusty, wind-swept, cold, bare-faced mountains of Afghanistan to the thumb drives we so casually plug into our computers while we sit at our keyboards in temperature-controlled offices with family pictures and silly cartoons tacked to our cubicle walls.

The battles are fought by both military and civilian first-responders (firefighters, security personnel, and medical technicians), imagery and information analysts, and cyber-technicians of many sorts. The weapons our enemies seek to use against us are explosives and bullets, as well as electrons, poisons, and viruses. Also among our enemies are disinformation, tactical and strategic deception campaigns, and just plain lies that we may unknowingly perpetuate against ourselves about the nature and intent of our enemies. It's nearly impossible to defeat your enemy when you don't even understand with assurance who he is, what his tactics are, that he wants to destroy you, or why he wants to destroy you.

Like a ticking time bomb, it is very dangerous to think these threats to our security will defuse if we disregard them. On the contrary, it will take years of attentive effort to defeat our enemies - and they must be defeated. The "best of all possible societies" our enemy wants to impose on us has been historically proven to be dreadfully ugly and contrary to the fundamental American values expressed in the Constitution we are jointly sworn to defend, "against all enemies, foreign and domestic."

Some of us have been engaged in these conflicts for years. Many of us here at Goodfellow have yet to join the battle. In either case, our knowledge, skills, abilities, diligence, and strong personal commitments are - and will continue to be - required to ensure victory. Teach and learn faithfully. Set your personal standards high. Remain vigilant. Remember whom you serve. Take care of your wingman. No matter your specialty, each of you is poised every day to make important contributions to our success. It's up to us to ensure that the enemies of our American freedoms and values do not prevail.

The survival of liberty in our nation has historically depended on the success of liberty in other lands. It follows that the best hope for peace - every true warrior's deepest desire - is the expansion of liberty to the entire world. Your individual contribution to the defense and spread of liberty is critical.

Read the following quote carefully and consider how it might apply to you and the performance of your duties.

"Surprise, when it happens to a government, is likely to be a complicated, diffuse, bureaucratic thing. It includes neglect of responsibility, but also responsibility so poorly defined or so ambiguously delegated that action gets lost. It includes gaps in intelligence that, like a string of pearls too precious to wear, is too sensitive to give to those who need it. It includes the alarm that fails to work, but also the alarm that has gone off so often it has been disconnected. It includes the un-alert watchman, but also the one who knows he'll be chewed out by his superior if he gets higher authority out of bed. It includes the contingencies that occur to no one, but also those that everyone assumes somebody else is taking care of. It includes straight-forward procrastination, but also decisions protracted by internal disagreement. It includes, in addition, the inability of individual human beings to rise to the occasion until they are sure it is the occasion - which is usually too late... Finally, as at Pearl Harbor, surprise may include some measure of genuine novelty introduced by the enemy, and possibly some sheer bad luck."

     - Thomas C. Shilling, from the foreword to Pearl Harbor: Warning and Decision, by Roberta Wohlstetter (Stanford University Press, 1962)

Finally, as we go our separate ways during this holiday season, it is my sincere hope and prayer for each of you to have safe travels, truly joyful times with those you love, and that you will seek to be a blessing to others. As that bright, young student reminded me last week, do your best and make right choices for the right reasons. Peace and good will.