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Commentary: It's all about context

Daniel Knox, Director Information Protection, 88th Air Base Wing

Respect those in our AF family who serve with honor — even if they take different paths.

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio – It’s all about context. That’s a byline I have used in a lot of discussions, and it’s no different with our service to our country.

We all serve what is arguably the greatest nation this world has ever seen. Yet many of us sometimes wonder if we held to our values as often as we had hoped, if we served with honor in the eyes of not just ourselves, but our peers, teammates and family.

I would argue the perception of honorable service largely depends on the context of any given situation, regardless of what others outside that context may think. Specific thresholds for honorable actions in any given situation are not usually defined by organizational instructions or manuals, but we don’t serve an organization — we serve each other, and the people of our country.

The honor and integrity we probably thought about in our early years of service included visions of glory or drama, likely swirling around ideas of leading men and women in dangerous situations in which valor and courage were commonplace, or standing up to some blatant injustice imposed by others. Some of us probably have experienced times of sheer terror, when our lives and the lives of others were in dire jeopardy. Others recall times when someone defied an unjust act, even though it may not have been beneficial to their career, simply because it was not honorable to do otherwise.

While the levels of success for those times may or may not have been adequately measured by promotion, position or recognition, they were important to us, our teammates or our family.

Those experiences often created bonds that last lifetimes to those involved because of that situation’s context, something others outside that context sometimes just don’t understand. Many times, these bonds transcend race, color, creed, religion or even national differences, because they were formed together, as a team with common goals, often just like the bonds a family forms.

Many of you likely have seen examples of this in your service; incidents of personal integrity or demonstration of character that set the example for others. I have witnessed incredibly honorable behavior in situations that had nothing to do with combat or life-threatening scenarios, demonstrated courage that was on par with instances I witnessed in far more dangerous environments.

Sometimes, the Air Force did not adequately recognize that courage, but rest assured, most of the Airmen and teammates around those individuals did.

Stay true to your core values

What does all that really mean? Quite simply, it means real respect is not reliant upon an organization’s topically defined thresholds of success or failure.

You decide what values you will define as resolute, as unwavering. You decide what lines you will consciously cross, and which you will not.

While certainly influential, your true core values should not be determined by the clothes you wear, the organization in which you serve or even the people with whom you serve. Your values are a result of your upbringing, and your personal choice of what is right, and what is wrong. Hopefully, the core values of your workplace agree with your values, but that isn’t always guaranteed.

Sometimes, you might find yourself revising personal core values based on the diverse perspectives around you. That’s part of learning and evolving as an individual, team or family member, but it is still your decision.

Again, it’s all about the context of any given situation, but never let that context significantly compromise your true core values. Stay true to yourself and those who were true to you, even if these values eventually take you down a different path than your work family.

Many of our Airmen may have difficult decisions before them in the near future. Those decisions may take them down a different path than they had predicted. If their service has been honorable, and their decision is based on their core values, then respect that decision and their integrity for standing by it.

But remember, until they do part with us, they are still on our team — and they will always be part of our family. We are all bound by a common oath, but sometimes more importantly, also by shared values embedded in that oath. Our oath never expires, and neither should our commitment to teammates who served and lived honorably.

We all have differences, yet like most families, we don’t let those differences supersede our common beliefs and goals. We have shared common experiences and situations, and some may have even risked their lives for their teammates and Air Force family.

We are a team, we are a family, with shared values and ideals, even if we differ in opinions and even when our paths diverge. That sense of family doesn’t stop just because someone gives up their common access card under otherwise honorable conditions.

For many, that family bond lasts a lifetime. Others may not get that, but you do — because it’s all about context.