Airmen of destiny

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Matt Barker
  • 53rd Weapons Evaluation Group deputy commander
The Dalai Lama told Bill Murray's character in the movie Caddyshack, that he would receive total enlightenment on his death bed ... so he's got that going for him, which is nice. These days lots of celebrities are into "spirituality," but many can't seem to define it (or stick with a particular brand). I won't bore you with the details of my faith, because you don't care, and you're probably pretty busy. But I contend, whether you admit it or not, whether you choose to articulate it or not, that you are predisposed to make an impact in this world and be greater than yourself by virtue of the uniform you wear. The American Airman is a person of destiny. Bear with me...

While having lunch with a couple of Army officers a few years back, one of them challenged me to define the Air Force 'ethos.' His thesis was that the infantry leader shouting "Follow me!" over the top of the hill was somehow more genuine and easy to encapsulate than any Air Force warrior ethos. The irony was that as a Special Forces officer, he'd probably made more of a strategic impact by developing relationships and building trust with indigenous populations over the course of his career.

Many of us brought some preconceived notions into the service with us and probably some fantastic plans to defeat the evil confronting our nation when we joined. Most of us probably figured out pretty quickly that we wouldn't be single-handedly defeating those enemies and wound up performing duties (both exciting and mundane) that we could have never imagined as we left civilian life.

While it's true that the fighter pilot dreams of splashing four bandits beyond visual range and then merging to kill a couple more with Sidewinders, and the Security Forces defender is ready at all times to engage a company-strength enemy force with interlocking fields of fire and bounding overwatch tactics ... but the reality of our service will usually not be so dramatic. But don't make the mistake of underestimating the value of your service, as routine as it may appear on the surface.

I am confident that I have saved lives during my Air Force career. I can't give you specific names or the callsigns of maneuver units I supported during several hundred hours over Iraq and Afghanistan in the back of an E-8C Joint-STARS. They have all blended together or faded over time, but I know my crew made a difference. Anyone reading this article has probably had a life-altering impact on their fellow Airman, even if they might not have known it at the time. What if you've already achieved your destiny? What would the impact be if you saved a brother Airman by volunteering with Airmen Against Drunk Driving, or helped a sister Airman work through a problem at work that set her up for future success, promotion, and responsibility?

As a young honor guard officer I had the solemn responsibility of presenting our flag to a fallen Airman's widow, the last 'formal' memory she would carry of our Air Force. In each of these examples, consider the positive effects on that person's family, their future contributions to the defense of our nation and their ability to "pay forward" your mentorship or act of selflessness. How many of these seemingly routine moments have passed over the last month? The last year? Your military career? How many lives did you change and not even pause to notice? Probably more than you know and for that you should be proud and thankful.

Our Air Force is the most technical of the armed forces and I fear we sometimes lose sight of the human element in tactical success. I've never met a plan so bad or equipment so deficient that it can't be conquered by the ingenuity and heart of the American Airman. That kind of power is unique and synergistic--it feeds on itself and multiplies our ability to grow leaders, take care of each other, and deliver desired effects on and off the battlefield.

Whether you think about it often or not, you are part of something greater than yourself: the most powerful force for good in human history. The cynics who are about to start commenting furiously on this article won't change my view on that. So strive for the destiny you think you were born to, but celebrate the greatness in your striving every day. Celebrate the difference you make as Airmen of Destiny.