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Excellence in all we do

KADENA AIR BASE, Japan -- In the Spring of 2013, after eight long months in the delayed enlistment program and a tiring day at Baltimore's Military Entrance Processing Station, I was finally presented with an enlistment contract.

The contract promised me four years of food, housing and education benefits as well as an annual salary in exchange for my commitment to the United States Air Force.

All I had to do was sign my name.

As I picked up the pen, the importance of my name and its link to my identity dawned on me for the first time in my 20 years. My parents chose to give me an unconventional name. It's a name that people notice. It's a name that people remember.

When I was in elementary school, my father stressed the importance of doing my best in school by telling me I should never turn in an assignment on which I wasn't proud to put my name. He told me that any work I attached my name to could be judged by others as a representation of my abilities, and that I would be selling myself short by presenting them with anything less than my absolute best.

I kept this in mind as I lowered the pen to the paper, and thought once more about the commitment I was making. I wasn't putting my name on a homework assignment. I wasn't signing a petition for gluten free options in the school cafeteria.

I was signing my name to a lifestyle. A tradition. A legacy.

By signing that contract, I committed myself to handling every obstacle and task the Air Force could throw at me as best as I could.

More than 180,000 people sign similar contracts each year, and unfortunately, some of them are only committed to doing the bare minimum required to earn the benefits offered to service members and their families. By contrast, a good portion of those people will enter the workforce with every intention of doing their best only to become discouraged by comparing themselves to coworkers who have likely been performing their job for much longer, which is why an important distinction must be made.

When I signed that contract, I did not commit myself to be the fastest runner, do the most pushups or be the best photojournalist in the Air Force. I promised the Air Force and my country that I would be the fastest runner, do the most pushups and be the best at my job I could possibly be.

The next time you are faced with a task you feel is inconvenient or downright demeaning, I challenge you to remember that you made the same commitment to excellence I did. The next time you put your initials next to a completed task on a checklist, ask yourself if you're proud to attach your name to the quality of work that was done. The next time you are presented with an opportunity to cut corners at work, think about the contract you signed all those years ago and the commitment you made to yourself and your country.

Before you head home at the end of each shift, reflect on whether you've presented your supervisors and peers with the highest quality of work than you are capable of producing.

If you can honestly say you have, you are fulfilling your commitment to excellence in all we do.