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High-Value Airmen

OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. -- "Greater love has no man, then that he lay down his life for another." That is a quote from the Bible. It is a statement of sacrifice, of giving of oneself for others. We admire this when we see it. The police, firefighters and other first responders who responded at the Twin Towers on 9/11 are an example of this spirit. We can think of many more over the years before and since.

We are challenged by these acts of selflessness. We want to honor those who perform them, we look for ways to thank them and memorialize them. Some people build monuments, artists make movies and paint paintings, writers tell their stories and politicians give tributes to the heroism we have witnessed in these people.

All of these things have as their immediate target, the desire to ensure that these acts of selflessness and the people who performed them are not forgotten. There is perhaps a more long range goal to these efforts to remember. I speak of the need to share selflessness as a societal value, the need to pass on selflessness to succeeding generations of our children and immigrants who join us in the American adventure through time.

I can't remember who said it first, but with regard to a society's children they wrote; "Our children are born uneducated barbarians, lacking our values, customs, culture and beliefs. We have but 20 years to civilize these barbarians, to pass on what we hold precious before they take over our society, begin to replace us and start to civilize their own barbarian children."

It's a bit humorous but still an insightful truth. No society that cherishes its "values", its accomplishments, it culture, etc. can neglect the task of educating those who follow us and inherit our legacy. Our Air Force is a subgroup with even higher standards than our society at large may hold. And one of these standards which exists at our very core, is the value of "Service before Self" that is reflected in my opening quote. We recite it, quote it, model it and hold those who join our ranks to this idea.

We tell stories of the founders of air power like Eddy Rickenbacker, our World War I fighter Ace. Rickenbacker had a promising career as one of America's top race car drivers but gave it all up to serve his country at the outbreak of war and never looked back. Most people aren't aware of it, but he gladly accepted his first assignment as a truck driver before being transferred to the Air Corps where he served valiantly and became a national hero.

Or what about Col. Bud (George) Day who dropped out of High School in 1942 to enlist in the Marine Corps and serve as an artillery crewman. He joined the Air Force in 1950 after college and was called up to serve in Korea when the war began in 1951. Years later Col. Day volunteered for a tour in Vietnam in 1967 and while flying his F-100 was struck by anti-aircraft fire and shot down. For more than five and a half years he served heroically in a prisoner of war camp until released in 1973. He was awarded the Medal of Honor and Air Force Cross.

We will continue to pass on our values by medals, through stories, teaching, memorials and by awards and accelerated promotions so that we may honor and highlight those values demonstrated by those who best and most conspicuously live them out. Most effective of all...you and I, the average Joe and Jane Airmen will pass on our values as we live and model them in our work centers and in the communities where we make our home.

We will embody "Service before Self" while at war or at peace, whether facing manning and budget shortfalls or not. We will do it regardless of our politics or our career specialty. We will do it, because like our heroes, you and I are American Airmen; members of the finest fighting force the world has ever known. And we will do it because, as men and women of high moral character we take seriously our oath to selflessly serve our fellow citizens to promote freedom and peace here and abroad, and consistent with our Airmen's Creed, we will not fail!