By Senior Master Sgt. Greg Moore, 478 Expeditionary Operations Squadron, first sergeant
/ Published September 04, 2008
FORWARD OPERATING LOCATION MANTA, Ecuador -- In July of 1944, a young Paul Airey floated aloft a breeze over the farmlands of Hungary, having just bailed out of his war-torn aircraft. After destroying the secret radio documents he kept in his jacket, he lit a cigarette and searched for a place to hide from the enemy. As he got closer to the ground, he saw many Hungarian civilians awaiting his arrival. He knew this arrival would not be a welcome one -- the Hungarians were strong allies of the Germans. He was greeted with a severe beating, jailed, and eventually became a prisoner of war in a German camp near the Baltic Sea. Airey faced many challenges during the next 10 months as a POW: hunger, sickness, beatings, and a march from the Baltic Sea to Berlin. He survived with honor.
Successful people in history are similar - they have a positive attitude and view challenging situations as life-changing opportunities. We may not all strive for historical greatness, but we all strive for some level of success, whether it be in our personal lives or in our ever changing profession of arms. We are at a turbulent and challenging time in our Air Force and in our military. Our continued success in the war on terrorism, and closer to home, the war on drugs, hinges on our own positive attitude and our ability to view our situation as a limitless opportunity, not as an annoyance.
I feel whoever has ever said and meant, "Attitude is everything," got it right. In many cases, the level of success or failure of a person or project can be traced directly back to an individual's changeable attitude. I combined a few different definitions of attitude to come up with one I thought provided the best description: Attitude is simply the way people react to something. It might be another person, a project or change at work, a flat tire on your way to dinner, or an upcoming professional military education class. Attitude makes us who we are - it helps determine our behavior, our needs, the way we learn and the basis on which people view us.
Just as every person is different, each person's attitude is equally as different. An important note about attitude is that it is 100% controllable. That's right. Our surroundings impact us, but we determine our attitudes. Every day you decide to be negative or positive.
How's your attitude? Do you view the glass as half full or half empty? When performing daily tasks, do you say, "This is the stupidest thing I've ever heard of?" When faced with tasks outside the norm or your comfort zone, do you view it as something negative or try to say somebody else should do this?
I hope you answered a resounding "no" to these questions. It you didn't, you are not only depriving yourself of success, you're hindering the success of your peers, supervisors, subordinates, and your unit. For those that answered no, good on ya. You have taken the first step toward success for yourself and the team that depends on you every day. In my mind every cloud does have a silver lining. As you can see, a positive attitude is a solid foundation for success, but it must be tied to something to put it in motion. That something is the capturing of opportunity.
Opportunities surround us daily, if and how we engage these opportunities determines our short- and long- term success. A Permanent Change of Assignment, a rewarding new position, enrolling in college, or in meeting the Senior Noncommissioned Officer of the Year panel are all opportunities. And, as rewarding as these opportunities can be, they are not the only opportunities afforded to us. Many of the most challenging and rewarding opportunities lay hidden behind fields of the unknown waiting on us to turn them into something special.
I want to share a true personal story that, in my mind, summarizes the seizing of such an opportunity. Several years ago, while serving in a maintenance organization, I had the opportunity to fill a Flight Chief position in the support section. It's where all the tools, test equipment, technical data, and hardware are maintained to support the aircraft. The flight had been neglected for the last several years and failed three Staff Assistance Visits in a row with ratings of unsatisfactory in all areas. The senior master sergeant that ran the flight was so beaten down that he retired with little notice. My maintenance chief could not find someone who was interested in this billet, mainly because the flight was in such disarray. I had been wearing master sergeant stripes for about 3 months and decided to engage the chief to see if he'd give me a shot at the job. The minute I asked about the job, he asked me, "When can you start?" I started immediately.
Now, this was far from an easy job. I worked 14-18 hour days for 9 months with few days off. All this hard work paid off 10 months later in the form of a no findings rating during our next Staff Assistance Visit. After the inspection, I felt pretty pumped and reflected on everything I had gained thru the experience. I gained vast amounts of knowledge about the working details of a new section. I gained the respect of my subordinates, peers, and supervision for tackling and succeeding at what seemed like an impossible task. And most importantly, I gained the knowledge that through my own efforts, I could create opportunities from what others would turn their noses at. So, you see, opportunities may not always present themselves in a neatly wrapped package. Will you grasp the opportunities that surround you as your own, or let them pass you by? The decision is yours.
Remember, you play the biggest part in deciding if you view our world as positive or negative. Also, opportunities surround us every day. Some of these opportunities may seem hidden, but they are there waiting for someone to turn them into the perfect golden opportunity. Paul Airey turned his experience into an opportunity.
He was liberated by British forces after being a POW for 10 months. He returned to the states and after a short leave, reported back to his duty station and re-enlisted. Of course young Airey later became the first Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force and is considered one of the founders of our Air Force. Paul Airey's attitude wouldn't allow him to view the Air Force as something negative. Even after spending 10 months as a POW, his attitude enabled him to view the Air Force as the opportunity of a lifetime, and that's exactly what he turned it into.