Courage and Compassion in Communication

  • Published
  • By Lt Col Donavon Davis
  • ACC Training Support Squadron Detatchment 14

The world’s greatest Air Force is nothing without the dedicated Professional Airmen who work to deliver credible, adaptive, and decisive combat power to our enemies at a place and time of our choosing. Any issues that take away our collective ability to deliver that airpower weaken our National Defense Strategy. In order to address issues, we each need to have the courage and compassion to communicate with our fellow Airmen, no matter how uncomfortable the topic is.

I grew up in a relatively small town in southeastern Idaho and enlisted in the Air Force right out of high school in 1994. One of the first things that I noticed in basic training was the diverse group of people who made up my basic training flight. There were people of many backgrounds, religions, skin colors, and nationalities. More importantly, we each had diversity of experience, thought, and inspiration. By the end of training, we had worked hard helping each other achieve our common training goals. We were united through this process and stronger because of our diversity. That was my first introduction to military life, and I have seen our diversity as a strength throughout my service.

While it is enlightening and inspirational to hear our senior leaders deliver guidance to address systemic issues affecting our combat readiness on a macro level, I believe lasting change comes from relationships that we foster within our squadrons and work centers. Military members inherently care for each other for many reasons, principally because we’ve taken the oath and are willing to fight and die for our country. We continually leave our families for months on end in order to carry out the National Defense Strategy together. This creates an unbreakable bond between members that won’t fade. If you have a hard time conceptualizing this, think of the veterans who have thanked you for your service. They see themselves in you, and would do anything to support you, regardless of what you look like or if you have ever met them.

So, why do some of us have difficulty broaching uncomfortable topics? I think the answer is innocent enough. We are problem solvers, and these topics don’t have easy solutions. We can’t run faster or study harder to easily solve the active duty and veteran suicide problem. We can’t wave a magic wand to erase racial tensions and the resultant civil unrest that is currently prevalent in society. Sexual assault prevention in the military has improved in recent years, but there’s still work to do. Each Airman can, however, find courage to communicate with each other, even if we don’t have the answers. Ask the uncomfortable questions and then listen. Without asking and really listening, how can we ever see these issues through anything but our own worldview? We already trust each other with our lives, have compassion, a shared purpose, and the unbreakable bond of military service. Our diversity is fundamental to our strength, and in our diversity of experiences we will find solutions and support together.

There are very few Jimmy Doolittle's, Dick Cole's, General Goldfein's, Chief Wright’s, General Brown’s or Chief Bass’s out there. These are some of our courageous formal leaders, past and present, with everlasting legacies. They probably won’t appear in your squadron to personally address some of these uncomfortable topics. That duty belongs to formal and informal leaders of all ranks and backgrounds across the Air Force. That duty belongs to you.

Your legacy is who you are every day. Are you working hard to better yourself and further the mission? Are you helping others to do the same? Did you have the courage within yourself and compassion for your fellow Airmen to communicate on uncomfortable topics? Did you help find solutions that encompass more than just your worldview?

Make no mistake; we are part of the most lethal fighting force in the world. We have this strength because we lift each other up as brothers and sisters to support and defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. We are stronger when we exercise courage and compassion to communicate with each other. When we do this, we are unstoppable.