Expressing gratitude this Thanksgiving
By Col. Brent McArthur, 30th Space Wing vice commander
/ Published November 18, 2013
VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif -- One of America's favorite traditions, Thanksgiving Day presents us with an opportunity to reflect on the many blessings we have in our lives. There's some debate amongst historians regarding the first American celebration of Thanksgiving; however, there's no debate in the holiday's tradition being rooted in the outward expression of gratitude.
When I was a young boy, I remember anticipating Thanksgiving... I thought about three things... the annual family/neighborhood football game in our front yard, the great food my Mom and Grandmothers were going to prepare, and all of the football games my brothers, my Dad and I were going to watch on TV. When dinnertime arrived, it was an amazing sight to see the table full of turkey, ham, stuffing, etc. Today, what I remember most however, is the few moments just before my siblings and I began our meal and just prior to the blessing on the food... Dad and Mom would ask everyone to stop, have a moment of silence, think about what we were thankful for, and then each person would share something personal and specific. It was a powerful teaching/learning experience and a tradition that the McArthur family continues today.
I share this tradition with you for a reason... I believe showing and expressing gratitude are essential attributes of great leadership both at home and in the work environment. I think of my Dad and Mom as great leaders of a family with eight children... my Dad didn't make a lot of money, but my Mom had the "resource advisor" skills to manage our family's limited resources to "keep the mission" going and ensure we kids had the "mission critical items" we needed in spite of the economic turmoil of the 1970s and early 1980s.
Today as an Air Force leader, when I think about the opportunities, challenges, and difficult choices the Air Force faces (sequestration, budget cuts, etc.) in the current fiscal environment, I'm often overwhelmed. As leaders at Vandenberg AFB, we could become paralyzed and operationally ineffective if we solely focused on the challenges we face (i.e. cuts to programs and services) and don't take time to think about and publicly acknowledge to our fellow Airmen the benefits we still have and what we're thankful for. Airmen need to know what their leaders are grateful for and they need to hear us say "thank you!" Those two words have enduring power... and, if used appropriately can cement the bonds of an effective team and create positive, lasting energy and boost morale.
So, what am I grateful for? One of my best friends (he happens to be an AF Colonel) said it best at his Colonel's promotion ceremony a few years ago in Tennesse... he said, "I'm grateful for faith, family and friends." I echo those words... I too am VERY grateful for faith, family and friends!
I am grateful to my parents for teaching me the importance of utilizing/acknowledging faith and personal convictions to cope with professional and family challenges; President George Washington often mentioned relying on Providence as he struggled with significant trials early in our Nation's history. While my faith was well established prior to my commission; my Air Force family and friends have grown immensely since entering Officer Training School in 1991.
My Air Force family and friends are too numerous to list for this article. Suffice it to say, at each base or location where I've been stationed for the past 22 and a half years, I've been honored and blessed to meet, serve with, learn from and grow close to hundreds of amazing Airmen (military, civilian, and contractors). I'm grateful for their commitment to Integrity, Service and Excellence... I'm grateful for their willingness to make me feel part of a winning team. I'm grateful for the personal stories they shared, their challenges, their sorrows, their successes, their patience and their instructions...
I'm grateful to Chief Master Sgt. (ret) Jim Taylor for telling me in 1991, "You'll never make it as an officer in the Air Force." I'm grateful Capt. Frank Goldman "ordered me" to become the best deputy missile combat crew member at Minot AFB and then showed me how. I'm thankful that Lt. Col. Ronnie Wright told me, "I loved teaching ROTC, you should go for it" when I asked if I should apply to be an ROTC instructor. And, I owe a great debt to Lt. Col. Lee Barnby for making time to write/submit an awards package for me and my crew partner (which we knew nothing about) and resulted in professional benefits that were felt for several years. I'm thankful that Col. Larry James (now Lt. Gen. retired) told me "thank you" and I could tell he meant it. The hours were long as his wing executive officer and sometimes the tasks were thankless, but those two words spoken with sincerity energized me.
When I had just been promoted to Lt. Col., I'm grateful I again had the opportunity to visit with Chief Master Sgt. (ret) Taylor just before he lost his battle with cancer; he told me with tears in his eyes, "I knew you had it in you Brent... so, keep getting' after it and always listen to your NCOs." I'm grateful to Master Sgt. Jackson (the best First Sergeant ever) for being "my wingman" during squadron command. His personal sacrifices and commitment to airmen in our squadron exuded Service before Self... I'm glad I listened to Chief Taylor and Master Sgt. Jackson.
So, what are you thankful for? Is it faith, family and friends... is it this awesome country we live in, or is it the fact that we're part of The World's Greatest Air Force?" What about the educational opportunities the Air Force provides... or the dozens of other benefits we often take for granted? Over the Thanksgiving holiday I hope you'll set aside some time to think about what you're grateful for and then go express your gratitude to those (Airmen and others) who have positively impacted your life... the energy boost you'll give and energy boost you'll receive will make it worth it... I promise!