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Compass, nail, coin: What’s on your desk?

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Patrick Castle
  • 375th Bioenvironmental Engineering flight commander
Symbols often serve to represent ideas, to communicate meaning, and to offer a source of motivation. The Statue of Liberty in New York harbor welcomes thousands to a land of freedom and opportunity many never dreamt of obtaining prior to arriving on the American shore. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in the Arlington National Cemetery reminds us of millions who gave their lives in the defense of our freedom.

Who among us hasn't teared up at one time or another upon seeing our classic symbols of freedom: Old Glory and the American Bald Eagle?

Many of us have symbols that serve a similar function to represent a special meaning and to motivate us. On my office desk sits three of my personal symbols of military service that were given to me by U.S. Air Force friends: a compass, a nail, and a coin.

The compass was presented by a friend who followed me as the executive officer for the Air Force Academy Department of Chemistry. When he gave me the compass at his going away dinner, he offered, "This symbolizes the importance of your internal compass that inspires others to stay pointed on Integrity first." Integrity drives us to do the right thing while leading others to uphold high standards and encouraging them to achieve their absolute best.

The nail was given to me by an Air Force Academy chemistry instructor who prepared me to take over the general chemistry course. He gave me the nail for helping him, as his assistant, to remain grounded during hectic times. Based on his exemplary demonstration of an exceedingly strong work ethic, the nail also symbolizes the hard work that is necessary to achieve "Excellence In All We Do." Think about how you have maintained excellence even during demanding times. Our country expects that of us, and in the words of Thomas Edison, "There is no substitute for hard work."

The coin was a gift from my predecessor in my current position as the Bioenvironmental Engineering Flight Commander. The coin reads, "Mission Complete," in honor of her retirement. Ironically, this coin has come to symbolize that my mission is not complete and will never be complete, even when I retire from our Air Force. In the spirit of "Service Before Self," we feel compelled to press on. I will continue to look upon that compass and nail as my mission goes forward.

Those of us wearing the uniform are here, and for many at great cost, because we value "Service Before Self" and realize that in giving we receive. We receive the gift of contributing to something much bigger than ourselves. When looking in the mirror, that person looking back stands for what matters most: Integrity First, Service Before Self, and Excellence In All We Do. What symbols are on your desk to remember this?