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A chief’s perspective on what it means to have character

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Daniel Arvin
  • 790th Missile Security Forces Squadron Chief Enlisted Manager
During my short career, I've heard or jokingly used the phrase "what a character," generally describing when someone did or said something silly. However, true character is no laughing matter. The Professional Development Guide lists character as one of the leadership qualities incorporating charisma, compassion and courage as all inclusive. We understand the meaning of these words independently, but what do they mean collectively? What is character and where does it come from?

Character defines who we really are and guides us in decision making during normal or stressful situations. It is a never-ending commitment to doing the right thing and builds trust and confidence in our abilities to those around us. Character is derived from our life's experiences and who we desire to be. It is our moral compass or conscience guiding us to make the right choices in all we do. Our character is not determined by the situation. Instead, our character determines the outcome of the situation.

I can think of no better character than that of Medal of Honor recipient Maj. Louis Sebille.
On Aug. 5, 1950, Major Sebille took to the air in his 73rd combat mission to provide close-air support to ground forces defending the Pusan Perimeter. His aircraft was armed with six .50 caliber machine guns, two 500 pound bombs and several rockets. En route, he was directed to the Naktong River area where American forces were being overrun.

Upon arrival at the river, he could see masses of enemy troops, artillery and camouflaged vehicles. Under intense fire, he dived toward enemy artillery on a sandbar in the middle of the river strafing the area with his machine guns and dropping one bomb; the second bomb had hung and he was unable to release it. On the second pass, he again strafed the sandbar and his aircraft's engine cooling system was hit by ground fire. His wingman informed him that his aircraft was losing coolant, and he needed to return to base. Given the option of bailing out or trying to return to base, Major Sebille decided he would make one final pass at the enemy. He radioed his wingman and told him he would not return to base and he was going to get the enemy.

With full control of the aircraft Major Sebille circled the enemy and headed directly for a group of transport vehicles loaded with enemy soldiers. In a steep dive, with guns blazing, he flew his aircraft directly into the vehicles. The aircraft's impact, remaining bomb and several rockets resulted in a spectacular explosion destroying the vehicles, enemy forces and shot a fire ball along the ground for several hundred yards.

Major Sebille displayed the most valiant character in the actions he took to save countless American lives that day on the battlefield. His actions set the standard for our core values of integrity first, service before self and excellence in all we do. He epitomized the concept of wingman by not leaving his fellow service members behind. He could have easily left the fighting and saved himself. Instead, his character led him to the decision of sacrificing his own life to save others. Fortunately, few of us have faced life or death situations on- and off-duty to sacrifice our lives for another, but we can strive for the never-ending commitment to do the right thing and watch out for our fellow Airmen.