Dignity and Respect: United We Prevail

  • Published
  • By Senior Master Sgt. Brandon M. Alvey
  • 21st Communications Squadron

Dignity and respect are terms we have heard echoed up and down the chain of command. These words are more than a description of an ideal end state but a call to action, a foundation upon which to conduct both our professional and personal lives. Applying them requires self-reflection, self-awareness, and the willingness to accept realities that may be counter to your own.  Doing so begins by recognizing that life is precious and that all individuals have an inherent value simply by being. Over the last year, two experiences tested my ability to apply these foundational principles.       

In June 2017, I was tasked to provide transgender policy training to our unit during the next Commander’s Call. Never before had I been so nervous or uncomfortable about a briefing; not because it was a controversial topic but because I had been struggling to understand the transgender lifestyle and had still not fully formed my own opinions regarding it. The Air Force had made its position clear but I did not want to be perceived as disingenuous to those I was briefing.  While I worked to find the common ground between the Air Force’s stance and my own beliefs, I dove into the training and educated myself on the policy.

I don’t remember every aspect of the training slides but I distinctly remember the words dignity and respect being repeated throughout. I also don’t recall at which point it dawned on me, but a revelation hit me like a ton of bricks: I was so preoccupied with deciphering my personal position on the transgender lifestyle that it took multiple readings of “dignity and respect” for the real message to truly sink in … and I was ashamed of myself.

The Air Force’s transgender policy posed no threat to my existing beliefs or opinions. It required no change to them nor attempt to. The policy merely detailed how we would include another group of people into our already diverse force: the same way we always have, by treating every Airman as a valuable individual with a unique perspective to bring to our force. That was not contrary to my core beliefs but completely congruent with them.

Ironically, only a few short months later I would have the chance to further investigate and fully form my personal beliefs on the transgender topic. My cousin, who I grew up with and of whom I am immensely proud of, made the courageous decision to come out as a woman. As I worked through my emotions I found that my love for her as a family member and simply as a human being required no compromise of my values or beliefs, though in the end, it surely shaped them.  Ultimately, our military leadership decided against implementing the transgender policy in full but these examples serve to remind me how to apply the tenets of dignity and respect in my life.

The principles of dignity and respect serve as a rallying point for Airmen of varying backgrounds, lifestyles and faiths. Thankfully, these principles are universal to our force and non-negotiable. They underpin our Core Values and provide the common ground for Airmen from all walks of life to meet, share their perspective and perhaps add others’ to their own. They also provide a platform upon which to act in the arenas of professionalism, diversity, Sexual Assault Prevention and Response and virtually every other Air Force initiative.

My personal beliefs have evolved considerably over time as I’ve interacted with people from all walks of life and experienced new cultures. I’ve learned to seek out that which makes me uncomfortable and learn from those I do not yet understand. Many radically different viewpoints have altered my beliefs or simply reinforced that which I already believed while discovering a uniquely different perspective; however, I would argue that all of that would be impossible without first finding value in the individual.

Whether you believe that all people are created by an omnipotent deity or are simply milestones on a continuous evolutionary timeline, it appears that humans are a unique manifestation of life in the observable universe. From either perspective, life is precious, should be valued to the utmost, and treated with the dignity and respect consistent with that value. I am proud to serve in an organization that has ingrained these tenets in all that we do. When dignity and respect guide our everyday action, no matter how different we are as Airmen, we unify into a single combat force capable of tackling any challenge.