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In service of others

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Melany Bermudez
  • 18th Wing Public Affairs

All I taste is sand as I grind my teeth. I look into the valley, the Village of Ganjgal Afghanistan. My heartbeat is drowned out by PM machine guns, AK 47’s, and M16s in the distance. A single radio channel is jammed with competing voices. My team is one of those voices, surprised and ambushed.

I pace in frustration as smoke and shrapnel from rocket-propelled grenades fills the air. I’ve lost count of how many times I've called in asking to provide aid, distressed by being out of the fight and unable to help. I anxiously await permission to drive into the fray.

“Fox 33. Your request to enter the valley is denied, you are to stay at your present location”.

I check the ammo belt on the Mark-19 and turn to my trusted driver sitting behind the wheel of a Humvee, Staff Sgt. Juan Rodriguez Chavez. “You ready Rod?”

“Give it a few more minutes Meyer, you’ll fry for this”.

He’s right, I would be sent home for disobeying a direct order.

Obedience to orders is something you are taught, but doing what you can to help people that are suffering is something that is ingrained in you. Service to others overrides everything. It is what you strive to do always.

A dozen advisors try to talk over a single radio channel, its chaos.

“I can't shoot back because I'm pinned down. It’s so close to my grid…“ and then static.

How long do you do nothing when your friends are fighting for their lives?

Rod put the Humvee into gear.

Medal of Honor recipient Dakota Meyer snapped back to the front of the auditorium, looking out to a sea of people. Sand was replaced by red carpet and red canvas-covered-seats filled with men and women in uniform. Expectation is clearly visible in their eyes, they're ready for some wisdom.

Meyer took a breath and began to speak to an auditorium of 120 military members from the Professional Military Education Center at Kadena Air Base, Japan.

Meyer continued with a confident smile. It's never about your ability to fight, it is what you are fighting for.

His mindset when talking to a room full of people, or a one on one conversation, is no different than the day he entered that battlefield. Meyer spoke about being leaders of our own life. To him, leadership is actually “peopleship”.

He then reminisced about a time his own leadership was questionable.

I am the lead of a Sniper team, recently meritoriously promoted to Corporal by the gunny. He has graciously assigned a man named Castillo to be on my team. Gunny knows I don't care for Castillo, we have personality differences. I’m convinced Castillo doesn't have what it takes, and I've told him so.

He isn't physically ready, I work him harder than anyone else at PT in the mornings. If he isn’t throwing up by the bottom of the mountain then we turn around and run it again.

Castillo broke in 10 days, he comes up to me with a fallen face and says “you were right, I don't have what it takes”. I nod and march us up to Gunny's office. A defeated Castillo admits he wants off the team and no longer hopes to be a sniper.

Castillo leaves and I walk into the office. A stern gunny looks at me and without hesitation says  “I made a mistake when I promoted you to corporal.”

A deafening silence fills the air. A hush fell over the audience as they let the weight of his words sit. Meyer explained this was the wake up call he needed to see where he strayed as a leader. Gunny had explained to him that there’s a small difference between an enemy and a leader.

An enemy and a leader will both push you to your breaking point. They will expose your weaknesses. An enemy exploits those weaknesses and a leader helps you get better.

This led him to speak with service members across Okinawa; from Kadena Air Base to USMC Camps Foster and Kinser. Taking every opportunity to get to know and have an authentic conversation with them during his visit.

The good deeds of one day don't equal more than those that make up the rest of your life.

That one day (the battle of Ganjgal) represents what any of us are capable of doing. Every Airman plays a vital role; their readiness and resilience are foundational to playing our role as the keystone of the Pacific.

Meyer's objective is still the same as it was that day that he entered the valley – to make the world a better place.