What I've Learned From POW Survivors

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Mark Brejcha
  • 412th Test Wing
As I reflect on the base-wide activities from our recent POW/MIA Observance Week (ruck march, luncheon, retreat), I find myself completely unqualified to write an article about Prisoners of War and those listed as Missing in Action except for reading, listening and observing former POW's and talking to the families of MIAs.

Through their perspective on combat, captivity and life afterwards, I've learned to apply a couple of sobering leadership principles that may one day help me handle life situations with courage and fortitude:

Embrace Hardship - Truly the Greatest Generation (WWII) was first tested in the bread lines of New Jersey and the Dust Bowl of Oklahoma before those brave men were tested on the shores of Normandy. You see, they were forged by the day-to-day hardship from the Great Depression of the 1930's. They didn't have to like it at the time, but unbeknownst to any American teenager in the 1930's, it prepared them to be warriors on the battlefield in the 1940's. Their attitudes were tough because life was tough. They had calluses on their hands, and sweat on their brows. They knew what it was like to sacrifice, to ration, to get by on minimal comfort. It served them well on the battlefield and helped them survive in captivity.

Today, hardship is packaged quite a bit different, but nonetheless challenging. It means balancing family, work, self and school. It means taking PT seriously. It means deploying when it's your turn. And when it comes to combat skills training, it means wearing the battle rattle for the duration and playing like it's for real. Embracing hardship is like swallowing bad tasting cough medicine -- it tastes horrible, but it's good for you, so you take it. Embrace Hardship - it'll toughen you up. It's part of our profession of arms.

Be Prepared - When 57 year-old US Airways pilot Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger took off on that morning in January 2009, he never suspected that birds would snuff out his engines on take-off. But they did. His "automatic" actions landed the plane safely in the Hudson River and all 150 passengers survived. You see, Sully prepared for that moment years ago as a cadet at the U.S. Air Force Academy (Class of 1973) and from there went on to become an accomplished military and civilian pilot with over 19,000 flying hours to his credit. He took every juncture of his personal and professional life and stayed strong and stayed ready for what potentially "could" happen when his plane "slipped the surely bonds of earth".

For us, as Air Force professionals, when it comes to being prepared, it means knowing and doing your job well. Keeping your skills razor sharp. It means staying strong in mind, soul and body, 24/7. You never know what tomorrow will bring. You may have to assist at a road-side accident on your way to church or open fire with your M-16 in the direction of bad guys in Afghanistan. Situational awareness...know your environment and always be ready for the "what if." Be Prepared - everyday.

Again, you never know what tomorrow will bring. Pearl Harbor, Bataan, 38th Parallel, Desert Storm, Khobar Towers, 9/11. As an Air Force Warrior, find a way to get tough and stay tough in mind, soul and body. You don't become this by staying soft and comfortable. If you're going to be a warrior, then by gosh be a strong one. And finally, stay prepared. Life changes quickly, both at home and on the battlefield. Be prepared in all things and every situation; to the best of your ability. By doing this, we honor those who have sacrificed so much for the cause of freedom, especially our former POW's and the families of our MIA's.