Physical courage is a quality rightfully associated with military members. Tales of battlefield heroics from Greek mythology through present day are replete with names synonymous with great physical courage. Hearing names such as Hercules, Perseus, Levitow, and Sijan summon powerful images of these larger than life warriors.
Serving downrange and living apart from one’s family takes courage. It takes courage to answer our nation’s call, to enlist and to excel during training. Physical and mental courage are requisites to serve one’s country. While the needs of the Air Force require discipline, integrity and physical strength we cannot fulfill our duty lacking another requisite – moral courage.
Mark Twain wrote “It is curious that physical courage should be so common in the world and moral courage so rare.” Moral courage can be described as doing the right thing even at the risk of inconvenience, ridicule, punishment, loss of job or security, or social status. It means taking action for moral reasons despite the risk of adverse consequences. Defining moral courage takes only a few minutes of research and critical thought. But, demonstrating moral courage in a military organization is sometimes much more difficult due to supervisory hierarchies and perceived cultural and group norms. Demonstrating moral courage can be therefore especially challenging for our youngest Airmen.
We all have the potential to demonstrate moral courage, to show character in the face of difficult situations. Taken individually the following examples may appear minor, but when the concepts manifested in these examples are applied across an organization, the effect can be powerful.
It takes moral courage to refuse to listen or repeat gossip; to report crimes or serious violations of regulations; to correct standards of conduct; to call “knock it off” when a joke is inappropriate; to stand up against group norms when a trainee’s feedback becomes personal; or to speak up when the status quo conflicts with the “right thing to do.”
When we listen to our instincts, our conscience and that quiet voice within, we can make the tough calls. The risk associated with demonstrating moral courage must be met with an equally supportive and engaged chain of command.
Squadrons exist and are organized to accomplish the mission while developing Airmen. Today’s E-1s and O-1s are the Air Force’s chiefs and generals of tomorrow. We’re in the business of creating Airmen who are absolute masters of their craft while simultaneously developing these Airmen to be leaders. As an enduring organization we are in fact training our replacements. Every commander I have worked with shares a desire to develop competent, well-rounded, morally and physically fit Airmen. There must not be any barriers to achieving this end.
The chain of command is there to serve. Do not be afraid to ask for advice if you feel there is something holding you