On Service Before Self

  • Published
  • By Col. Rebecca Blackwell
  • 21st Aerospace Medicine Squadron commander
I had the opportunity in early December 2015 to run the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital half marathon in Memphis, Tennessee. It was my second time to participate in this fundraising event and run with a team founded by a friend who tragically lost her 3-year-old daughter to an incurable brain tumor.

The difference between the first time and 2015 was the weather. In 2015 it was fairly warm and sunny compared to cool and rainy when I first participated. About one third of the way through the half marathon, the runners go through the campus of St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. The road was lined with the children who are patients at St. Jude with their families, many in masks with no hair on their heads and seated in wheelchairs. These young heroes and their families cheer for and thank the runners. The emotion took my breath away. Once I ran off the campus, regained my composure and listened to other runners talking about the experience on campus, I thought how rare doing something bigger than you is in general.

As military members, we are charged with service before self in everything that we do. That commitment to serving others before serving our own interests is a large part of what makes military service special. For the runners at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, the opportunity to run for a few hours for something bigger than a personal record and a medal was an unusual event that humbled and inspired. I was reminded how lucky I am to participate in something bigger than my own ambition every day in everything that I do.

As we move into football play-off season for both college and national football, another common example of service before self is highlighted. The old adage that there is no "I" in "team" demonstrates service before self in sports. Although teams may consist of superstars, that star working for his own statistics and fame does not make that player a good teammate nor does it necessarily support the success of the team. Each player has a part in the success of the team, but in order to optimally achieve it the players must work towards the team goals rather than his own goals. Doubtless, a teammate who isn't personally improving will not contribute much to team victory.

Service before self in the U.S. Air Force mirrors teamwork in sports in that we each contribute to the success of a bigger mission than our own personal goals. However, without constant strides towards self-improvement, we each give less to the mission. The difference between our team and a sports team is the mission. A sports team plays for a victory or a title, we work toward a military mission that can mean the difference between life and death for our wingmen. It continues to be an honor to serve with Airmen who are inspired by the opportunity to put service before self!