GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE, Texas --
Everyone has a personal mantra that speaks to the values in which they strive to live their lives by.
Oscar Wilde’s mantra was, “Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.”
Eleanor Roosevelt’s was, “Do one thing every day that scares you.”
Ellen Degeneres said, “Accept who you are. Unless you are a mass murderer.”
So what will your mantra be?
I encourage you to keep digging deep inside yourself to discover what those words are for you. The Air Force has given us our three core values, but our lives have shaped us into unique individuals who bring various strengths to the fight. So everyone in this world has something slightly different, whether we realize it or not.
I once read a memoir called, “It Happened on the Way to War: A Marine’s Path to Peace” by Rye Barcott. In 2000, Barcott spent his summer living in the Kibera slum of Nairobi, Kenya, famously known as one of the largest slums in the world – over 500,000 people. He was a college student heading into the Marines, and he sought to better understand ethnic violence—something he would later face in uniform. He learned Swahili, asked questions, and listened to young people talk about how they survived in poverty.
While in Nairobi, Barcott started a non-profit organization that develops a new generation of leaders from within one of Africa’s largest slums. Eventually he ends up serving as a human intelligence officer in Iraq, Bosnia, and the Horn of Africa. This juxtaposition between helping and potentially hurting people within the same continent makes the story interesting. Struggling with the intense stress of leading Marines in dangerous places, Barcott takes the tools he learned building a community in one of the most fractured parts of Kenya to become a more effective counter-insurgent and peacekeeper.
My favorite story in the book is supposed to be a humorous one.
For safety purposes, Barcott slept every night in one of ten huts, as he was a white American living in the slum of Kibera. One night, he gets a bad bout of diarrhea, and he as he is hustling to the bathroom, he slipped and fell into a huge pile of human feces. Because there is no electricity, he strips down afterwards and leaves his filthy pants outside to deal with the following day.
But when Barcott wakes up, his pants are gone and he is absolutely dumbfounded. Who would take poo-covered pants?
Well, when he returns to that same hut several nights later, he finds his pants – mysteriously clean and folded – simply waiting for him.
So he starts asking around the neighboring huts to see who – and more importantly why – they cleaned his pants.
He discovers it was a 12-year old girl named Vanessa. When inquiring why she went out of her way to clean his pants, she replied, “Kwa sababu naweza,” which translates to, “Because I can.”
This young girl did not expect anything in return; it was simply an act of kindness she knew would be greatly appreciated. And that has always stuck with me, and quickly became my personal manta. “Kwa sababu naweza, because I can.”
I hope that you will be encouraged to not only find your own personal mantra that you strive to live your life by, but also, that you will do things in your career for all the right reasons, just because. My hope is that you will always stand up for what’s right, fight for those around you, and one day, potentially, give our country the ultimate sacrifice – your life. And when and if someone is amazed by your service to our country, and they thank you for your service, you will tell them you do it with great pleasure, just because you can.