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Role models

  • Published
  • By Col. James Fontanella
  • 315th Airlift Wing Commander
I had an interesting discussion with my chief's group a couple weekends ago. The topic was leadership, and it was not astonishing to hear one of the more seasoned chiefs tell me that one of the most important aspects of his leadership is his function as a role model to his young Airmen. So, that got me thinking about role models. Who are they, where do we find them and what influence do our role models have on our community, families and our mission?

My list of role models is long, ever-growing and dynamic. Whom I choose to model my behaviors after, either consciously or subconsciously, is usually dependent upon the situation. If I wanted to list the individuals who have either provided a direct influence on my life, I would choose those whose actions I feel are worthy of emulating and should be honored for the examples they set. I am blessed to start this roster with my father and my mother. Certainly they have been the most influential people in making me who I am, in terms of my values, ethics and a large degree of my personality.

Those who work as community volunteers have also always inspired me. We recently attended the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce's 2013 Salute to the Military. It was a recognition of our military members and civilians who volunteered and made a positive difference in the community. The guest speaker mentioned it ought to be considered "good enough" if you've volunteered to serve your country in the military, but that night's honorees showed how they could contribute even more while giving of their time and talents in their neighborhoods. All of the volunteer award nominees and winners are very inspirational to me.

I am reluctant, but if I had to choose a sport hero, I would say the great Bo Jackson set one of the most outstanding examples of character that should be aspired to. Not because of his statistics on the college or professional playing fields, where he played two sports, and was considered possibly the greatest athlete of all time. No, the lesson I choose to take from Bo is that he made his career decisions based on principle. He was determined to complete college as an inspiration to his family. He rebuffed a contract with one professional team and chose to earn a fraction of the income playing with another, because the first organization was not forthright in all of the details of a contract which adversely affected his college career. He put his ethics first, despite having the talent that would tempt others to maximize pay or prestige. He was a true "professional" athlete in both senses of the word.

Looking beyond the significance of personal role models, I believe there are many individuals whose actions actually shape the ethos of our nation. Day to day in our jobs around Joint Base Charleston, we have surrounded ourselves with individuals who demonstrate the Air Force core value of service before self. We see our Airmen, Sailors, Soldiers and Marines deploy into combat operations; selflessly operating in harm's way without hesitation or regret. In addition to our service members, the front page of the newspaper routinely chronicles brave public servants who pay the ultimate sacrifice in serving the common good. The firefighters who perished earlier this month in Prescott, Ariz. and the brave emergency responders during the 9/11 attacks set examples that will be enshrined in hero status in the history books.

Finally, I feel it's worth mentioning the respect I have collectively for the example set by our civilian employees during this very painful furlough period. Our civil service civilians are employees who choose to labor for an honest wage in support of our national security, and are, at best, undercompensated for the service they and their families provide our country. The current furlough that is underway has posed significant personal and financial hardships on our civilian Airmen and their families, and interrupted their ability to do their jobs.

Morale is undoubtedly suffering during this frustrating budget measure, yet I have witnessed an amazing abundance of grace and nary a direct complaint nor protest. I have been inspired at the cooperation, flexibility and innovation evident in the workforce as we struggle to accomplish our mission. For that I say thank-you to the most professional, dedicated civilian workforce with whom I have had the honor of leading and working alongside.

Role models make us who we are, either by the actions they demonstrate, the ideals they represent or the ideas they convey. I have been inspired by countless individuals whose ethics I strive to emulate, and by others whose actions are heroic and I can't help but owe gratitude and respect. The lessons in leadership based on our role models are effective both up and down the chain of command, and I'm humbled to work among some of the best instructors in the world.