by Capt. Tamara Fischer-Carter
Air Force Space Command Public Affairs
5/6/2013 - PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- I
recently completed my first marathon, the Bataan Memorial Death March.
For anyone unfamiliar, the Bataan Memorial Death March is a challenging
march through the high desert terrain of White Sands Missile Range,
N.M., while carrying a 60-pound rucksack. The annual event honors the
heroic service members who defended the Philippine Islands during World
War II, sacrificing their freedom, health and, in many cases, their very
I had 26.2 miles for self-reflection. During the long hours, I learned
many leadership lessons that seem like common sense now, but dawned like
true epiphanies in the desert heat.
First, I learned not to judge others. I saw many people struggling
during the march; but I didn't know their story or their struggle. It
could be that they simply were ill-prepared or it could be they recently
had back surgery. Endless quotes come to mind, but I'll simplify: help
where you can, but know the only one you should be in competition with
is the person you were yesterday and who you're trying to become in that
I learned the importance of being credible. A volunteer at an aid
station was telling marchers the mile marker of their location. I took
that for truth, so I was crushed when I later realized she was wrong and
I was miles behind where I was told I was. I appreciated the
cheerleading and encouragement, of which the volunteer had plenty.
However, more importantly at the time I needed clear guidance and
accurate information. All the cheering in the world doesn't make up for
lack of vision or direction. When you're in charge of Airmen, they can
see right through high-fives and at-a-boys if you don't have a solid
plan of execution.
From this incident, I also learned to be prepared and double check your
information. Don't blame the faulty information provided by others
because you weren't prepared. Know limiting factors and details of the
mission. Plan ahead: mentally and physically. Know the route and terrain
and bring your own gear and supplies -- in my particular case, a GPS or
tracking device would have been helpful. Next time I will know exactly
where I am with pace count, terrain and route. Mental and physical
toughness are important, but thorough preparation may make the
difference when it hits the fan...you'll already be a step ahead of
chaos knowing the lay of the land, knowing yourself and your Wingmen.
Control your thoughts and master your mind. Once you allow negativity
in, it's game over. The individuals who were able to keep their thoughts
positive still had their head up toward the end while others showed an
obvious battle of fighting to quite. When it comes down to it, others
can help you from the outside, but only you can help yourself on the
inside. It is critical to be of sound mind and body by balancing your
pillars of spiritual, mental and physical fitness. Part of the mental
fitness is keeping a positive attitude while under stress. Like the
positive-thought-marchers, it is quite clear to outsiders (those
receiving your direction and guidance) when someone has chinks in their
armor defined by negativity.
Credibility earns respect. I was initially intimidated by the many
people in fancy, top-notch gear at the starting line; but as the miles
piled up, I saw them dropping out. The finishers earned my respect by
doing what it takes to complete the mission with skills beyond
trappings. Fancy gear and attitude go a long way for intimidation, but
just because you're not wearing name brand doesn't mean you're not just
as good or better. I learned that succumbing to intimidation is your own
defeat and you might as well quit where you are if you let others get
to you. Know yourself and your limits and be credible in your actions.
If you're 'talking' without 'results' it's affecting your credibility
and respect with other Airmen.
Appreciate history and take advantage of the daily opportunities to make
a difference -- each day a new page is written -- why read about it
when you can help write it? Standing there the morning of the march, and
hearing the Bataan Veteran's names being called, really drove home the
fact that the sand is dropping in everyone's hour glass. This moment in
time will never come again. Enjoy each and every moment to the fullest.
Most importantly, this march reaffirmed what we in the military believe
in and that's to thank others who sacrificed for us. It is a fleeting
and humbling experience to be able to personally tell the heroes of
history, like the veterans of Bataan, "Thank you for my freedom." I was
compelled to do just that. Not only did I shake the hands of Bataan
veterans in person to say thank you, while I still had the opportunity.;
I also sponsored a World War II veteran on a trip to Washington, D.C. I
was overjoyed to present the Honor Flight of Southern Colorado with
donations I raised, from family and the Veterans of Foreign Wars, to
help a WWII veteran see the memorials built in their honor.
It is an amazing feeling to be able to link times of the past with the
present. The memories of the march and the lessons I learned, like the
scars I earned from carrying the 60-pound rucksack 26.2 miles, will
stick with me throughout my career.