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Leadership can by found in many ways at every level

Patrick AFB, Fla. -- This past Saturday evening many of us had the opportunity to celebrate the 60th anniversary of our United States Air Force at the Cape Canaveral Radisson Hotel. For those of you that didn't make it, you missed a great event. Among the many attendees that evening, I had the distinct honor and pleasure to sit next to Sgt. Donald Williams, one of the Tuskegee Airmen, and his lovely wife Ruth. I quickly learned that Sgt Williams is a gracious and humble man, and just like so many from his generation he didn't consider himself a hero at all. He was part of the Army Air Corps "experiment" (his words) based in Tuskegee, Alabama. He said he went to serve our nation, and then followed up his words with 30 more years of service as a civil servant. Truth be told, every one of the six pioneers applauded last Friday evening are heroes, but very few ever think themselves deserving of that title. And truth be told, every one of our volunteers putting on our celebration last Saturday is a leader, but I'm sure very few of them think themselves deserving of that title either. Let me explain.

Every week, throughout this base, there are literally hundreds of leadership opportunities. When no else did, Lt .Col. Pat Youngson offered to serve as project lead for the Air Force Ball - that's leadership. When asked, twice as many volunteers stepped up to the plate to support the event - that's leadership. When the numbers were a bit short four days before the ball, many of you asked your friends to come along - that's leadership. My hat's off to the entire team for putting on such a grand show. The Hispanic Heritage 5K many of us participated in this past Friday took leadership - and the untold number of scout projects, church activities and sports events that we'll attend this weekend all take leaders. Leadership takes many forms, but I firmly believe that there are a few common characteristics: take opportunities, take some risk, develop a passion.

When an opportunity comes along, take it - don't be afraid to separate yourself from the masses. Sgt. Williams, a young man in August 1943, saw an opportunity and took it, and on 31 March 2007 he was awarded the highest civilian award offered by our legislative branch, the Congressional Gold Medal. At the time, most every American thought the "experiment" would fail, except someone forgot tell the Tuskegee Airmen and now they are a revered part of our history.

Don't be afraid to take a bit of a risk - if you're not making mistakes when trying something for the first time, you're probably not trying hard enough. A few months ago I finished reading "1776" by Pulitzer Prize winning author David McCullough. If you ever want to understand how close this country came to never existing, read it. Less than 18 months before crossing the Delaware, Washington had never led any army in battle, commanded more than a regiment or directed any type of siege whatsoever. But on Christmas Eve, 1776, the world was forever changed because General Washington took a risk.

Develop a passion for what you're doing - and for goodness sake, don't quit. I recently completed "The First Heroes" by Craig Nelson, the story of the Doolittle Raiders and one of the most amazing stories of WWII. Each of the Raiders had an absolute passion for their mission, and their leader, Lt. Gen. Jimmie Doolittle, my hero, embodied the spirit of a leader second to few. Even faced with low chances of success, they never quit. So maybe we'll never be a Sgt. Williams, a Washington, or a Doolittle - that's okay, you can still be a leader. Leadership can come at all levels. Take opportunities, take a bit of risk, develop a passion! Chances are you'll go far.