Editor’s note: This commentary was first published Dec. 2, 2014.
KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. — Growing up I was a big fan of Muhammad Ali. He was the world heavyweight boxing champion and unashamedly referred to himself as “The Greatest.” I vividly remember a reporter asking Ali, “When did you know that you were ‘The Greatest?’” Before Ali could answer, the reporter offered, “Perhaps it was when you knocked out George Foreman in 1974?”
Ali shook his head in disagreement, so the reporter continued.
“Maybe it was when you destroyed Sonny Liston in the world heavyweight championship in 1964?” Again, Ali shook his head.
Then Ali told the story of when he knew he was the greatest. It happened in 1973 when he faced Ken Norton at the San Diego Sports Arena. As Ali entered the arena, the crowed was in a frenzy, cheering “Ali, Ali, Ali!”
The world champion stepped in the ring and quickly found himself overmatched against the bigger Norton, suffering a broken jaw in the second round. Ali found the strength to finish the 12-round bout, but suffered only his second defeat in 43 professional fights. Through this trial, after having his jaw broken and being knocked senseless but somehow remaining on his feet, is when Ali truly came to believe he was the greatest.
To prove that point, Ali went on to beat Ken Norton in their next two matches.
Being knocked out and having to bounce back is all but inevitable for most of us. This is especially true for those of us in the business of delivering air power for America. Our mission can be stressful and those stresses can be further complicated by the everyday challenges of life. The good news is that, regardless of our situation, there is always a helping hand. The act of reaching out to these individuals may be difficult, but should never be thought of as a sign of weakness. In fact, recognizing you need help, and seeking that help, only builds resilience and strengthens your character. Knowledge of this indirect benefit is well documented throughout history.
Per John Heywood, an English author and playwright in the early 16th century; “If you will call troubles experiences, and remember that every experience develops some latent force within you, you will grow vigorous and happy, however adverse your circumstances may seem to be.”
We all need help every now and then. Some individuals feel very comfortable asking for financial, spiritual, physical, or emotional help during difficult times; however, many others are unable to recognize when help is needed, or are just reluctant to ask. For those who prefer to do things themselves, so as not to burden others, the situation or experience can eventually become such a weight that the individual is unable to go at it alone or is already in over their head.
Air Force physicians, mental health providers, chaplains, first sergeants, commanders, and wingmen are all there to help. There are also many programs that allow you to talk or research your situations, such as our family readiness centers, our Military Crisis Line, the Air Force Suicide Prevention web site, the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program, and The Airman’s Guide for Assisting Personnel in Distress. But the fact remains, if you don’t reach out, it’s difficult to offer assistance.
As military members, your country relies on your service and we understand the burden that can be levied upon you and your families. Always remember, you are not alone with this and someone is there to help.
My wish to you is that you will ask for help if you need it. Just remember that even “The Greatest” had to bounce back to truly realize his greatness.