Tag Archives: Abraham Lincoln

Air Force core values should extend into our personal lives, Sept. 12, 2012


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By Lt. Col. Thomas J. O’Connell Jr.
4th Airlift Squadron commander

The Air Force core values of integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all we do provide excellent guideposts on how to conduct our professional military lives. Because they are so closely associated with the Air Force, their application often stops there. In actuality, they are great guides for our personal lives as well.

This perceived limitation was highlighted to me a few weeks ago when I had the honor and privilege to address the Julius A. Kolb Airman Leadership School Class 12-F. During the discussion I used a quote from Abraham Lincoln, “Whatever you are, be a good one.”

The majority of those in the room were not only Airmen, but leaders of Airmen. My point was to challenge the recent graduates, who are now leaders of Airmen, to be good ones. The message was not unique; in fact it is encapsulated in our core value of excellence in all we do.

Afterward, I was approached by Airmen, civilians and retirees who said they really liked the “whatever you are, be a good one” part of the talk. In particular, one Airman who had recently separated from the Air Force was worried about how she would adjust to being a full-time mother.

She said Lincoln’s quote inspired her to be a better mom. Whereas before she was driven to be the best Airman she could be, now she would redirect that energy at being the best mother she could be.

The theme of excellence was obviously not new to her, but by discussing it in its earlier form by Lincoln, the message actually resonated with a larger audience.

While the opportunity to bring Lincoln’s words to the audience was rewarding, it highlighted to me that the core values concepts have become so closely associated with the Air Force that somehow people perceive them as a “military thing” when their usefulness is much wider.

So, if you’re an Airman, I encourage you to continue to live and internalize the core values. If you’re a retiree, a spouse or a civilian, I encourage you to do the same, but if Lincoln’s words have more resonance, then use them instead.

Whatever you are, be a good one!

What would you say in your Letter from a Birmingham Jail?

Maj. Dan Akeredolu By Maj. Dan Akeredolu
60th Force Support Squadron

There are times when we may be tempted to question ourselves regarding our principles or methods for promoting them. There are others, even friends, who might add to our self-doubts with their own. Fortunately, we can learn from historical examples of those who successfully stood firm to their principles even in the midst of tremendous doubt.

It was spring 1963 and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. sat imprisoned in a Birmingham city jail for participation in a direct-action demonstration for which he was charged with parading without a permit. However, what troubled King most was the criticism he received from eight Alabama clergymen who wrote an open letter titled “A Call for Unity.” This letter indirectly referenced King as a trouble making “outsider.” Additionally, the letter implied segregation was best dealt with patiently through the courts. So it’s between these two forces – a hostile city government and timid “friendly forces” that King demonstrated his courageous leadership. At all levels of leadership there are lessons to be absorbed by learning from the past. The situations will vary but certain principles remain constant. King’s letter brilliantly defined his vision for success to his doubters and perhaps most importantly for himself.

King envisioned four steps that are keys to any nonviolent struggle: facts, negotiation, self-purification and direct action. I’d argue they also apply to modern day leadership. First, the need to begin with factual information is readily apparent to most. Secondly, there’s the art of negotiation, or stated another way building relationships by taking Abraham Lincoln’s advice to ” … appeal to the better angels of our nature.” Next, King suggested a period of self-purification was needed in order to withstand any remaining hostilities. Last but not least, there’s “direct action” which implies that at some point we must act on the “fierce urgency of now.”

In his letter, King was angered by the clergy’s insistence on continued negotiations and he urged them join him instead toward more direct action. His major argument was that for far too long negotiation has come to mean “wait” and “wait” has almost always meant “never.” So I ask the question to you when standing firm on your principles, do you spend too much time in the negotiation stage? Sometimes the time to act is now. This may require speaking an uncomfortable truth to power but I’d encourage you to consider the words of poet James Russell Lowell, “Truth — forever on the scaffold, Wrong — forever on the throne, but the scaffold sways the future and behind the dim unknown.” Basically, there is never a bad time to let truths defeat wrongs.

As we remember, learn and appreciate those well or little known contributions to American history by Black Americans, let us apply those lessons to today as we commemorate a diversity that has made our Air Force great. We should continue to seek historical and current inspirations to prepare us for our moments of courageous leadership.

Photo: Maj. Dan Akeredolu (U.S. Air Force photo)