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Comfort and Courage 101

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Kevin Akers
  • 90th Operations Group first sergeant
I had the distinct honor of attending the U.S Marine Corps, Staff NCO Academy Advanced Course at Camp Pendleton, San Diego, Calif. in January. The first sight of a crowd of Marines created an immediate nervousness in my stomach. I started to wonder if I had prepared myself for the HOO-RAH shouting, snake-eating devil dog's who were awaiting my arrival.

As luck had it, one of my previous supervisors from when I was an Airman in 2003 and 2004, just so happened to have been selected for the same course and location. What a relief.

We kept getting the uncomfortable stare-down and instant judgment upon sign-in. We walked back to the barracks and had a conversation about what we expected from the advanced course. Each of us had a similar outcome; something uncomfortable that is outside of our normal comfort zones.

Expectations aside, we had to bring our "A" game and show the Marine Corps that the Air Force is not full of donut eating, cocoa drinking, zipper-suited sun-gods, as a couple of Marine gunnery sergeants had expressed we were.

It was time for the initial fitness test and see if our preparation was up to the Marine Corps standard. As each of us passed Marine after Marine, the sense of nervousness subsided and motivation started to set in as our preparation was well above the standard.

Our motivation didn't set in because we had done better than many of the Marines, it set in because at the end of the testing, we had destroyed the negative stereotype and misconceptions many of the Marines had about the Air Force. This opened the door to explore what the Marines were about and to earn their respect as brothers in arms wearing a blue uniform versus khaki.

In reality, Marines are no different than Airmen. They have the same issues Airmen are facing every day, the immediate downsizing in the form of voluntary separations and early retirements. They have manning issues at the tactical level and are going through changes to get back to the basics. The main difference is the way they support the fight and differing priorities within their branch.

As the weeks went by, we got into a lesson that covered their performance reports, or "fitness reports" as they call them.

What stood out the most to me was how they were rated on courage. This really caught my attention and I had to dig deeper into what this was about.

Merriam-Webster's dictionary defines courage as: "a mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty."

I asked Marine Gunnery Sgt. Robert Jernigan, who was a member of my Platoon and a highly decorated combat veteran, what courage meant to him.

His reply was simple: "[It's about] rejecting fear, standing up for what is right and educating others on how to do the same."

I appreciated his simple answer and decided to dig deep within myself to find out what I could do to spread the word and assist my fellow Airmen on being courageous.

After a day or two of deep thought, I came to the conclusion that setting a positive example and encouraging those around me to be courageous, I may inspire others to do the same.

So how do we, as Airmen, become courageous? It can be as simple as helping those in need by recognizing a struggle, regardless of whether they are your best friend or a complete stranger, and standing up against inappropriate conversation and discrimination. When in times of difficulty, ask for help and inspire those around you to do the same.

As the course drew to a close, I was assured by my platoon of how they were wrong about the Air Force and how us three became "Air Force Devil Dogs" and changed their view on what they thought about our service.

I attribute our success to courage. When faced with a challenge, we persevered. Had we not ventured out from the comfort zone of the Air Force, we may never have fully under stood how much courage goes into daily life.

I challenge each and every one of you to be courageous, whether it's taking the steps to do something outside of you comfort zone, such as a sister service professional military education, or by correcting your best friend at the exchange for not maintaining dress and appearance standards. Dig deep into who you are and take pride in how courageous you can be.