Commentary by Maj. Leland Taylor
21st Space Operations Squadron, Det. 2 commander
We live in the greatest nation on earth — a blessed country with great freedoms, specifically chronicled in one of our nation’s founding documents, the Declaration of Independence, as “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Many of our forefathers fought and died for this “unalienable right” to make our own choices, thereby choosing our own destiny to obtain that “happiness.” So how do we obtain that which our ancestors so bravely provided us? I would submit one of the ways to obtain this desired happiness is found in doing the very best we are capable of — knowing when we’ve finished any given task, big or small, we can walk away knowing we gave our all — there are few things in life so satisfying and/or gratifying.
One of my heroes, Robert Hales, was a fighter pilot for the U.S. Air Force. He shared an experience he had while in the Air Force that captures the essence of doing our best. He said, “As a young man, I had an opportunity to serve in the U.S. Air Force as a jet-fighter pilot. Each unit in our squadron had a motto that would inspire its efforts. Our unit motto — displayed on the side of our aircraft — was ‘Return with Honor.’ This motto was a constant reminder to us of our determination to return to our home base with honor only after having expended all of our efforts to successfully complete every aspect of our mission.”
This same axiom, “Return with Honor,” can be directly applied to each of us, throughout all phases of our career.
First — how do we “Return with Honor” each day? We give our all — we use all the talents we have to get the mission done in the best way possible — we work hard. This includes actively looking for ways to simultaneously make the world around us better by selflessly serving those around us. Also important is to ensure the “how did we get the mission” done — did we do it without cutting corners, or by ensuring we didn’t do anything “immoral, unethical or illegal?” Not coincidently, these recommendations closely mirror our Air Force core values of “Integrity first, Service Before Self, and Excellence in All We Do.” One of my co-workers, a very driven and successful individual, summed it up one day when I asked her, “Why do you work so hard?” She said simply, “When I go home, I need to be able to look myself in the mirror.” This is returning with honor each day.
Second — how do we “Return with Honor” after each assignment? We need to have a plan. We cannot leave the results of our assignment to chance. We must evaluate what our assignment is and where and what are the opportunities available and the challenges that need to be overcome. Then we plan and determine how we can best serve to meet mission requirements while continually improving our organization and ourselves. As we make this plan, we also need to look to the future — we must determine where and what we want to accomplish personally and professionally before our time is up at our current assignment. Please note, even after you have done all this, there are no guarantees — sometimes things just don’t work out — but you are significantly more likely to achieve what you start out with if you have a plan in mind. In other words, “Aim High.” Either way, you can complete your assignment with no regrets; knowing you returned with honor.
An important second order effect of Returning with Honor is as you succeed, you will inspire those closest to you. I work with some great people here in Guam and one of the members of our team here has a son, a newly minted lieutenant, who is enjoying his first assignment. My coworker will often share with me how his son is progressing — I have noticed he is following the plan outlined here and is beginning to see some successes. Not only am I sure this young lieutenant will find success during his current assignment, but I know if he continues his current pattern he will be very successful as he continues serving. It is gratifying to see how proud his father is of his son and to observe how it spurs him to greater accomplishments — success breeds success.
Third — how can we return with honor at the end of our career? The steps are essentially the same as how to return with honor during each assignment, the difference being, we apply the approach strategically. We must develop a plan with the end in mind, determining how, what, where and when we can leave the greatest impact and service, while simultaneously determining where we want to be personally and professionally when we are finished serving. If we are honest with ourselves, plan ahead, and then execute to the best of our ability, then we will have the greatest satisfaction possible, knowing we gave it our all, thus exemplifying the true meaning of return with honor.
A final anecdote to drive this point home is something our 50th Space Wing commander imprinted on my mind when he visited Guam and something I have heard him say many times since. He repeated many times in various different ways the theme, “No one joined the Air Force to fail.” He is right, no one did join the Air Force to fail, and we need to ensure each person has the right tools to succeed. With preparation, a plan, hard work and truly living the core values, we can return with honor at the completion of our careers.
We live in challenging times which will demand much of us, but based upon my experience working with the great men and women of this Air Force, I know we will be up to the challenge. I invite you to think about how return with honor applies to you. I know we can make the correct choices required to return with honor at the end of each day, each assignment and at the end of our careers.
We have the opportunity to choose how we will live each day, how we will affect change and ultimately, what the final consequence of our service will be. Will we look back, with pride and gratification knowing we did well, or will we look back at the missed opportunities to make our nation and ourselves better? Make the decision today to return with honor at each critical juncture in your career.