Leadership Lessons: Who is second place?

GRAND FORKS AIR FORCE BASE, N.D. -- When it comes to sports, you always hear two different points of view: "if you are not first, you're last," and the "soccer mom" mentality of "everyone wins a trophy!!" All of you sports fans know it is a competitive spirit that drives us as individuals and teams to be the best we can be. Like many of you, I joined the Air Force to be a part of something bigger than myself. As a young senior airman, I was stationed at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. I had just been given the news that I aced my Army Officer Candidate Board. I was finally on my way to achieving the goal I set four years prior. I was so excited to finally become a leader of others and actually achieve something with my life. I was ready to out-process and spend the next eight months to a year in Army officer training.

I was born into a strict military family. All my brothers and sister are extremely smart, graduating high school with 3.9 and 4.0 GPAs. Growing up, my siblings were great at everything they touched. Sports, music, social relationships, and education came easy to them. I, on the other hand, was not so blessed. I loved sports. However, when it came time to play a pick-up game, I was near the last to be selected. Making friends was not easy. Let's be honest, I was way too honest about what I thought, socially awkward, not very smart, and definitely not a ladies man. I had to study hard for my 3.2 GPA. Even as I got into college, no matter how hard I tried, it appeared I was destined to stay a "B" average student. No matter what the task, it seemed like I always came in second place. This was my chance to change all of that.

In October 2011, I was notified that, due to cutbacks, I was no longer going to receive a commissioning opportunity with the Army. I believe the exact wording was, "We can only pick the best." WOW! Talk about a damper. Second place again! To top it off, I had to PCS. In a four-week timeframe I found out about the lost commissioning opportunity, got my PCS orders, left beautiful Ramstein, and arrived at Grand Forks Air Force Base...in November! It was cold, it snowed within the first couple of weeks, and I was alone for the holidays. Let's just say I was not very enthusiastic about being stationed here. All I heard from everyone was how bad this place was. As a brand-new NCO, it was very hard to motivate others or myself. I hated my job, my boss, and this base. I thought I was rotting away in a place the Air Force sends people to forget about them.

The next year, I was sent TDY to attend the Master Resiliency Trainer Course, where I had the privilege of meeting Brig. Gen. (ret.) Rhonda Cornum. She told us of her experience as a POW, the adversity she encountered, and how being optimistic helped her get through it. I began to realize that perhaps my life was not so bad. For a Texas boy, -20 degree weather is no laughing matter. However, it is nothing compared to mock executions and the looming fear of never seeing your family again. I realized that the problem was not my failures or Grand Forks AFB, but rather my attitude. Often, we are so focused on the negative in our situation, we fail to see the opportunities that are sitting right in front of us. I signed up to be a part of something bigger than myself and here I was focused on my desires and not the Air Force's needs. I was an NCO!  I already had the opportunity to lead others--it didn't take becoming an officer--but I was failing to see it.  I decided to square myself away and get to work.

A different staff sergeant came back from that TDY pumped and ready to be the change he wanted to see. Former Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Gaylor said it best when he spoke of what "Service Before Self" really means at the Chiefs' Recognition Ceremony last year. I will never forget his words: "Anything, Anytime, Anyplace." I decided that regardless of the circumstances, I was going to be optimistic and adopt what I like to call "The Gaylor Concept." It's not about me! It's about being there for the needs of the Air Force and for others. You can't just show up and be a part of an effective team. You have to contribute! Once I learned this, I began to enjoy my job and even being at Grand Forks.

What I did not see coming was what happened next. I was able to take leave and go home for my sister's wedding. As a groomsman, I was standing on the stage looking down the center aisle, and she came walking right toward me. Not my sister...I missed that part. Rather, it was her friend Debbie. All I saw was the most beautiful woman in a blue dress walking down the aisle. WOW! And as they say, the rest is history. Had I gone into the Army, I would never have made it to my sister's wedding and I would have missed out on meeting the woman I was destined to marry.

Because I changed my attitude, every day seemed to present more opportunities. Now, when I think of Grand Forks AFB, it's not the temperature, job, accomplishments, or failures that come to mind. Rather, it is the memories of the friends I have made, the people I have helped, my first Airman, my first Airman that won an award, and my family here at GFAFB. I learned that we fail only so we can learn how to succeed. Therefore, we should strive for "Excellence In All we Do" every day.

So, does everyone win a trophy? The answer is no! We are learning very fast with the new EPR system that not everyone will get a 5. Not everyone gets to be "Truly Among the Best." Then who is second place? The answer is simple. You will find yourself in second place the moment you place your desires ahead of the mission and others. Excellence is not measured by specific achievements. Rather, it is measured by seizing every opportunity to make a difference in the mission, in others' lives, and giving it everything you have every day. I found that by making my desires second place to the needs of the mission and those of others; I was able to accomplish more than I could ever have hoped for. Excellence is not a goal, it is an attitude! If you truly live by "The Gaylor Concept" every day, you will not find yourself in second place. Your attitude will determine your actions.  Thus, it is your attitude that will put you in second place!