Friday, June 06, 2008


Yesterday was an incredible day to be a media officer on the Air Force press desk. Some years ago, I received a phone call from a reporter who’d received a tip so stunning, that my response was something like, “you’re kidding,” or “holy cow.” Sure enough, a young 2nd Lt. Nelson was quoted in Newsweek with those not-so-wise-and-illuminating words. So when I received a call from a senior editor of a prominent newspaper yesterday morning saying he had a huge tip – certainly the biggest of my public affairs career – I carefully avoided any expressions of obvious surprise that might haunt me by afternoon.

What haunted me instead was the difficulty in facing the news to come. Yesterday served as perhaps the darkest day for the Air Force since I began serving some nine years ago. Surely every military member – leader and follower alike – knows the desperate, defensive feeling of being “dressed down” because of some (seemingly) gargantuan, mission-altering mistake. No matter how dedicated or sharp, we all know what it is to “screw up.” The loss of credibility and the injury to pride can seem initially quite devastating. And the hurt many Airmen felt yesterday – hurt to our pride and morale as a uniformed service – was not dissimilar. The sting at the Pentagon was particularly sharp…first, because members of the Air Staff see the CSAF as their Boss in a very immediate way, and second, because every time my eyes met those of a soldier, sailor or Marine in these vast corridors, I read the sympathetic look that said, “Boy, am I glad I’m not in the Air Force today.”

Have they ever got it wrong.

As I walked around the Pentagon, I was reminded that the Air Force is not defined by two men. Certainly, the impact of men and women in those two key positions reaches throughout the force, and their shared vision sets the agenda for our mission focus and pursuits. But our service has a history much older, and much more prestigious, than the actions or leadership of any two men.

I serve at the pleasure of my leadership, but I do not serve for them. I serve for the men and women who I’ve been privileged to lead, knowing that it is their actions that prop me up and allow the unit, organization or service to accomplish the mission. I serve proudly beside some of the best people I know, in an organization that does not discriminate on the basis of race, sex or religion, and therefore allows some of the most amazing winners to rise to the top, knowing that even those at the top make mistakes.

Finally, I serve most passionately for the people I love. Moments like these remind me of the oath I took so many crises ago – to support and defend. In this, I am inspired by my son’s deep blue eyes – that legacy of protection tied now to a visceral maternal ferocity. I am inspired and humbled by my husband’s courage in doing things we never imagined he might do – his cool-headedness and bravery in terrifying combat situations. I am inspired by my parents, who represent the very best of idealistic, heartland Americans…They may never know the names of my senior leaders, but I can say with confidence that they are no less proud of my service today, than yesterday.

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