Don’t reach for the Round-Up

  • Published
  • By Capt. Eric Thomas
  • 319th Operations Support Squadron
Recently I attended a training seminar put on by the Air Force Profession of Arms Center of Excellence (PACE). During the seminar the presenter made an analogy comparing performance-impacting "issues" to weeds. When comments from the audience were invited, I suggested a slightly different perspective.

This morning as I was standing on the field for PT, I looked down at the grass and I was reminded of my weeds analogy. Beneath my feet was some green grass, a few dandelions and some clover.  A great mixture of grass and weeds that all contribute to the soft soil. The fact that the soil was not compacted, and that it soaked up all of that rain we have been getting over the past few days means that it is healthy. Many people look at the weeds and their first thought is, "grab the Round-Up, I have to get rid of that." They don't realize that the clover adds nitrogen to the soil and the dandelions have deep taproots that break up the soil and allow water and nutrients to soak into the soil; which will later make the grass greener.

The Air Force is very similar to this ecosystem. Some of us come with very little baggage. We were raised in traditional nuclear families, went to great schools and were surrounded by a plethora of close friends and mentors to help us along the way. They are the green grass if you will, everyone's favorite troop. The rest of us bring the baggage. Our parents are divorced. Siblings, or maybe even we abused drugs or alcohol. We came from, or are in, abusive relationships. We were sexually abused as a child or have been raped. We have a dark side (whether our fault or not) that we are ashamed of and would cringe if anyone knew. These are the weeds. The majority of society sees them as a problem that needs to conform or go away. I think that is a tragedy and would challenge that line of thought. Those "issues" grow deep roots, strengthening these weeds. These "issues" did not kill the person, rather the opposite, the person survived and they are more resilient for having gone through that. This, in turn, makes those ecosystems, in which they live, stronger. When my green grass troops get stressed (raped, abused, in trouble, etc.) I want them to have friends who understand, who have been there, and who can help them through the dark nights.

To our leaders: cut us all to the same height (via regulations) and make us all green (by wearing the uniform) but don't immediately reach for the Round-Up to make everyone conform to the standard "firewall 5." Take a step back and look for the value in their differences. To my fellow weeds, don't be ashamed of your past. I admire and respect you for getting through it. I value your sordid past that makes you see the world through a different lens. You challenge me and you strengthen me. You are what makes my Air Force stronger. And together we can get through anything.