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Is it worth it?

(U.S. Air Force photo illustration by Airman 1st Class Seraiah Hines)

(U.S. Air Force photo illustration by Airman 1st Class Seraiah Hines)

GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE, Texas --

As a 20 year officer and three time commander, I have had my share of highs and lows during my career.  The high of announcing annual award results and the low of performing court martial charges.  The high of seeing my unit ace an inspection and the low of having a co-worker diagnosed with a fatal brain tumor.  The high of competing with the Air Force Marathon team and the low of having to tell someone they were passed over for promotion.  Each one of these highs and lows have left a footprint on my career and many have had enough of an impact that it forever changed my perspective on life.  Such as, when I start to whine about the little things and then I think about my co-worker dying of cancer 18 months shy of his retirement, I realize that my complaints are trivial.

The one low that has changed my attitude and actions more than any other was when I had the responsibility to be the medical representative on a casualty notification. The notification was for an enlisted member who was killed in a TDY location while involved in a recreational activity.  While the commander and chaplain were talking with the member’s wife, I kept the couple’s three-year-old daughter busy in another room.  She was a beautiful, spirited child and also the same age as my niece. She enthusiastically showed me around her toy filled room, totally unaware that her life had just changed forever.  That her dad had disobeyed a sign stating an area was closed due to dangerous conditions, but risked his personal safety to get a closer view.  As she showed me her princess fort she didn’t know that she would never see her dad alive again. And she certainly didn’t realize, at the time, that her warrior dad died in a totally avoidable accident.

I am not, by nature, an adrenaline junkie or someone who enjoys high risk activities.  I hike, not rock climb.  I enjoy kayaking, but have no interest in white water rafting.  Therefore, it is not often I find myself in a situation that is considered high risk.  However, when a situation presents itself, I can’t help but think about that little girl happily playing with her dolls.  Is that short-term thrill worth risking your life and leaving your child without a parent, or your parents without their son or daughter?  Is it worth it?  I don’t need to remember a multi-step process for me to analyze the risk.  I just think about a three-year-child in a room filled with pink dress-up clothes that will never see her father again. 

So please, next time you are driving without enough sleep or too much alcohol, operating a boat without a life jacket, riding a motorcycle too fast around a curve or leaning over the edge of a cliff to get that perfect photo, ask yourself - is it worth it?

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