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What is courage in today’s Air Force?

PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- "One isn't necessarily born with courage, but one is born with potential. Without courage, we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency. We can't be kind, true, merciful, generous, or honest." --Maya Angelou

There are examples of courage all around us. It takes courage to say goodbye to your family when you deploy.

It takes courage to stand up to peer pressure, or speak the truth when it hurts. It takes courage to not walk by a problem. It takes courage to give constructive feedback to your subordinates. It takes courage to be a Wingman, not a bystander. It takes courage to take away your buddies' keys to prevent a DUI, or take a stand against sexual assault. It takes courage to submit an innovative idea, volunteer to take on a big project, or simply ask for help if you get in over your head.

I met a woman with courage named Martha McSally. Major McSally challenged the DOD policy that required U.S. service women stationed in Saudi Arabia to wear the abaya when traveling off base.

Serendipitously, I met her when I deployed to the Combined Air and Space Operations Center at Prince Sultan Air Base, Saudi Arabia in August 2001. Prior to my deployment, there was media attention swirling around McSally to include a broadcast interview on 60 Minutes.

I'll be honest with you when the story broke; I thought she was being insubordinate. I believed it was best to respect another's culture when you're a guest in their country. I personally looked forward to wearing an abaya and walking the streets of Riyadh to experience the anonymity of being a Saudi woman. I never got that opportunity.

Within a few weeks of deploying to Saudi Arabia, 9/11 turned our world upside down. The CAOC went into overdrive to plan the air war for Operation ENDURING FREEDOM, while continuing to enforce the no-fly zones over Iraq for Operation SOUTHERN WATCH. When I asked McSally about her views on the abaya, she responded, "How would you feel if you were an African-American officer, flight commander and were told that you had to sit at the back of the bus? Leaders lead from the front--not from the back!"

Her response rocked me back on my heels. The analogy to Rosa Parks made a strong impression on me. McSally had the courage to challenge a policy that conflicted with the principles of leadership and command. She did it at great risk to her career. I gained a lot of respect for her. She went on to become the first woman to command a combat flying squadron. She had the courage of her convictions.

Courage will allow you to practice the Air Force Core Values with consistency. So have courage to put integrity first, be excellent in all that you do and to put service before self.