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Lessons from the mirror

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, Fla. -- Only my wife and mother call me "handsome," and they're looking through the eyes of love. But I'm OK with it... really. I know what's in my heart, and my looks aren't some weird reflection of a twisted soul. I certainly didn't lie in bed as a child and pray, "Lord, can I please stay painfully skinny?

Prematurely bald would be nice too. Pale could someday be popular. And if I'm especially good, I've heard bow legs are almost irresistible!"

Put simply, I came to realize I look exactly like my genes dictate I should. I experienced the inevitable teenage angst, but it faded dramatically when I found my wife. (I married up in both character and looks.) Then, when I enlisted, the uniform finished off the last of my appearance insecurities. I expect when people look at me now, their focus is on the Air Force.

Besides, now that I'm a squadron commander I think I'm better off for the past pain. Before I offer counsel, evaluate, reward or discipline, I can look in the mirror and remind myself about what people choose and what they don't. I can will myself to judge only duty performance and adherence to core values.

Why should I be distracted by male or female? Black or white? Thin or thick? Plain or pretty? What do these things matter to the Air Force? They didn't seem to matter when my kids were young and innocent. They grew up living on base, attending schools with diversity, and were so naturally open to everyone the lesson was crystal clear -- prejudices have to be learned.

I haven't seen the Air Force teach prejudice. In fact, in my twenty years I've experienced the opposite in both the classroom and the work center. I've been challenged to act according to our ideals, and I've enjoyed meeting amazing people from all over the country. Folks with different clothing styles, accents, politics, and even religions, who've all taught me something unique and humbled me with their dedication to service.

Some have sand on their boots right now, which is sobering because almost every day brings more losses. I will NOT disrespect the sacrifices of so many by letting stupid skin-deep prejudices make me less than I should be. I will look in the mirror and remind myself again to earn the pride an Air Force uniform brings.