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That’s what it’s all about; an examination of who we are

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Thomas Nelson
  • 6th Operations Support Squadron
I saw a bumper sticker the other day as I drove through the front gate that said, "What if the Hokie Pokie is really what it's all about." 

I'll assume you know the Hokie Pokie -- you remember the childhood song and dance that was really fun when you were five or six years old and never seemed to get old; then as a teenager it was just plain weird and you were too cool to even thinking of doing it, yet for some reason you always ended up dancing to it with a great aunt at your cousin's wedding reception. On the off chance you have never had the pleasure of the Hokie Pokie experience, the song verses end with the words, "and that's what it's all about." So as I followed the car through the gate, I started thinking. 

What is it all about? I suppose we could discuss the Air Force Core Values and say that's what it's all about. Or maybe focus on our service's mission and say that's what it's all about. The possibilities are endless and I suspect much like everything else in this world, it just depends. It's situational and what's important today may not be tomorrow. What's important to some may not matter to others. Quite frankly, it's hard to pin down that one thing that defines what it's all about. 

Two thoughts come to mind as I think about that bumper sticker. The first one is the ability to sustain greatness over time. The dictionary defines sustainment in several ways, but the one I find applicable is "to keep up or keep going." Last week I did something I had not done in over twenty years, I rode in the back of a KC-135. The first and last time was in 1984 at Castle Air Force Base during my third class summer at the academy. It was in a KC-135A model. The aircraft was part of Strategic Air Command's 24-hour alert force that provided vital Cold War air refueling capability. Today, Castle Air Force Base, Strategic Air Command and the Cold War are gone, but the mission of the KC-135 keeps going. As I sat in the back of the modern day tanker and looked around, I thought of all the years that passed since my first ride and how amazing it was that this was basically the same aircraft it was twenty years ago and twenty years before that. I had a feeling of admiration for the aircraft and respected it for its ability to sustain through so many changes in our world. I think this characteristic is something each of us as airmen must be able to do. In a culture of "quick fix...if it's broke, buy a new one mentality," we have to accept the fact that in today's Air Force we must be able to sustain the fight. The Global War on Terrorism is not going to go away quickly, and we must be able to sustain our edge just like the KC-135 has sustained its capabilities through all these years. 

A second thought on "that's what it's all about" is of esprit-de-corps. It is an often over used phrase and finds its way into many speeches, but does it really exist? I think it does, but not without time and effort. The dictionary defines it as "a sense of pride and honor shared by those in the same group or undertaking." A second thing I did last week was attend a symposium of mobility airmen. I've regularly attended the annual event over the years, and each time I walk away with a renewed appreciation for the men and women in my command. I don't always agree with all the decisions we make, but I do believe in my fellow mobility airmen. The work we do throughout the world is totally amazing. It's easily taken for granted, but it really is something to behold. I'm also amazed at how quickly I can catch up with a fellow airman, who I served with two or three assignments ago, as if we'd just seen each other yesterday. There is a comfort in that and I'm pretty confident it is a unique quality of Air Force life not shared by all organizations. I know that it will be those airmen I've served with, through both good times and bad, that I will someday miss the most when it's my turn to hang up the uniform. 

Maybe there is no true answer to the question, "what's it all about." But I'm sure that our ability to sustain over time and our espirit-de-corp is what our Air Force was built on and makes us who we are. It is our "heritage to horizons."