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Honoring citizens of character

  • Published
  • By Commentary by Col. Mike Hornitschek
  • Air Mobility Wing commander
Tonight I have the privileged opportunity to share a few thoughts at Belleville's annual Salute to Citizens of Character Dinner for 2011. They're honoring 12 men and women whose lives display attributes that distinguish them as persons of character.

There are many traits that are important qualities when describing someone of character, such as being honest and trustworthy, someone who cares and gives service, or someone who can rise above or lead others through tough times.

I'm impressed by these citizens of Belleville because it was in their character, within their moral fiber to serve others rather than themselves. Let me give you an idea of what these fine people are being recognized for:
· giving service to others despite own illness;
· helping to preserve the heritage of the community;
· volunteering time and serving on boards for numerous schools, churches and community organizations;
· creating non-profit organizations to repair and donate bicycles to underprivileged youth
· starting running clubs to promote fitness;
· mentoring school-aged children; and
· fairness and integrity in administering as a CEO of a large health organization.

I think a critical element that links all these people together is the courage to do the right thing and to think of others more than they think of themselves. The Air Force promotes these same ideals in our core values of "Integrity First, Service Before Self and Excellence in All We Do" which serve as reminders to help us live up what is expected of us as people of character.

We organize, train and equip men and women to deploy anywhere in the world, at anytime, in any environment, against any adversary. The American people trust that our Airmen have the fortitude and conviction to perform their mission, especially when under heavy strain or personally difficult circumstances. They expect our Airmen to have integrity as they obey the rules of engagement, and not to become the very enemy we fight.

It takes moral courage and fortitude to stand alone at times when coming to the aid of a friend or using minimal force necessary to achieve a military objective--even when it is not the popular choice and we have the full military might of our nation behind us.

There are many examples from great leaders in the past that dealt with waning public faith in the face of war. For example, George Washington rallied his beleaguered army during the Revolutionary War to cross the Delaware River, all the while braving extreme winter conditions to capture the Hessians at Trenton and two days later expel the British from Princeton. To that he said, "The fate of unborn millions will now depend, under God, on the courage and conduct of this army. Our cruel and unrelenting enemy leaves us only the choice of brave resistance or the most abject submission. We have therefore to resolve to conquer or die;"

· As a young lawyer, John Adams, defended the British soldiers who were accused of the 1770 massacre of innocent men, women and children in Boston. In his legal summation we have his famous words: "Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence." He took an unpopular case and brought out the true events of that evening and saved several soldiers from being unfairly punished;

· Abraham Lincoln was despised and persecuted for his efforts in saving the union. Even though some top generals were disrespectful of him, the president used their skills because he knew they could affect the change he sought. Only when these generals refused to engage in the battle did he remove them from their posts. Of character, he said, "Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power;" and

· With tensions mounting in October of 1962, President John F. Kennedy faced down the Soviets as they tried to bring in missiles to Cuba. The world waited and watched ... and saw a president who had the moral fortitude to defend the people of the United Stated from this encroaching threat.

Examining their lives can inspire us to do the same. Our military heritage is also full of stories of brave men and women who put others above themselves such as Senior Airman Jason Cunningham, a pararescueman who was killed in action March 4, 2002.

His helicopter was shot down in Afghanistan and he stayed in the burning wreckage to provide medical care to the wounded. He braved intense small arms and rocket fire to set up three casualty collection points, and it was while doing so that he was mortally wounded. Even after he sustained wounds, he continued to direct patient movement and transferred the care of the patients to another medic. For his actions, he was posthumously awarded the Air Force Cross.

While this is a very heroic example of courage and selfless giving, there are many around us who exemplify the highest standards of character to which the effects are equally important in our lives. There's a great quote from Army Gen. Norman Schwartzkopf who said, "I admire men of character, and I judge character not by how men deal with their superiors, but mostly how they deal with their subordinates, and that, to me, is where you find out what the character of a man is." James D. Miles quoted something similar, too, when he said "You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him."

Our Belleville citizens weren't out seeking glory or to be recognized by someone of importance. They simply went about their lives finding ways to improve the world around them and like the CEO, they simply treated employees with fairness and integrity, which was recognized and appreciated by so many. This CEO would probably say he or she was "just doing my job." But, they were doing so much more than that. They were being the kind of leader someone could count on and someone in whom people could trust. That's not something you can really teach. It's just something that you must be. And we do that by making the right decisions ... even when no one is looking. Be a person of character.