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Commentary | April 23, 2010

Do you serve in the company of heroes?

By Col. Todd Wold 633d Air Base Wing Judge Advocate

One of my favorite scenes from "A Band of Brothers" is the story told at the end of the film when a World War II veteran was asked by his grandson if he was a hero in the war. His reply was no, but that he served in the company of heroes. That answer resonates with me and makes me think how lucky I am, and we all are, to serve in the company of heroes at Joint Base Langley-Eustis.

I don't think any of us would presume to call ourselves heroes, yet when you look at what people do day in and day out, we do serve in the company of heroes. What makes someone a hero? Is it the person who demonstrates physical courage? The military has recognized and rewarded acts of physical courage throughout history. Joint Base Langley-Eustis is fortunate to have many people stationed here who, by nature of their duties while deployed, have done so. Yet, how many of us are called upon daily to demonstrate physical courage in combat?

By contrast, virtually everyone has the opportunity each day to demonstrate moral courage through our words, actions, choices and decisions. Thomas Jefferson said it best, "One man with courage is a majority." Every time we make a decision or take a course of action that demonstrates moral courage, we not only define our identity, but also our ethics. This moral courage is what I believe make the JBLE men and women heroes. As with most beliefs, if you can't define moral courage, it is virtually impossible to appreciate why you serve in the company of heroes and how you can serve as an example.

Some people define moral courage as the willingness to do the right thing. Others would add that it is the willingness to do the right thing, even if doing so is unpopular or unpleasant for the person doing it. In William Miller's book, The Mystery of Courage, moral courage is defined as "(T)he capacity to overcome the fear of shame and humiliation in order to admit one's mistakes, to confess a wrong, to reject evil conformity, to denounce injustice ..." Moral courage is related to integrity. With a well-defined sense of integrity, you possess moral courage and do what is right even if the personal cost is high.

As the Staff Judge Advocate for the 633d Air Base Wing, it is my privilege to observe acts of moral courage each day. I see instances in which a few people, or even one person, take actions that make us better because they uphold a standard or define accepted conduct even if it is unpopular.

Moral courage is as simple as picking up a piece of litter as you walk by it rather than letting it sit or counseling the person who tossed the litter about expected behavior. It is remaining pleasant and professional even when confronted by an unhappy client, who is neither pleasant nor professional. Finally, it is rating a subordinate in a manner consistent with what they have earned - not with what is most expedient or expected.

Moral courage, like a muscle, must be exercised through training and repetition to remain healthy and strong. If we can leave no other legacy for the future, let it be our acts of moral courage. It is in observing these acts of moral courage that I am inspired to be a better example.

When others are asked, will they think of you when they say that they served in the company of heroes? Everyday acts of moral courage are your defining opportunity.