Leadership Ideas, Information and News

Monday, May 06, 2013

Epiphanies on an endless missile range

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 lives.

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 moment.

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.

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