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What happened to ‘service before self’?

The writer is a retired Air Force officer who is now a civilian employee at the Pentagon.

As I sit here on my first furlough day, I have the opportunity to think about what has occurred in the country I’ve dedicated my entire life to serving. Am I concerned about losing 20 percent of my pay for 10 weeks? You bet. I have bills like everyone else, but we’ll get through that. What I really feel is disappointment — disappointment in my government’s leadership. The president and the Congress — both liberal and conservative, Democrat and Republican — have let us down.

The vast majority of those in the Defense Department have grown up as active-duty airmen, soldiers, sailors and Marines. We come in early, we stay late, work weekends and do whatever is necessary to get the mission done. Are there outliers and those who take advantage of the system? Sure. But they are the exception and not the rule. For the majority, our compensation is job satisfaction and a feeling that we are making a difference, serving a grateful country in ways that many in the private sector never get a chance to.

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I can remember when the Air Force first put our “core values” in writing. My commander made everyone in our squadron memorize them and recite them from memory. I thought this was a waste of time. But since then I have realized that those short few phrases are much more than words; they describe what and who we are. “Integrity first.” “Service before self.” “Excellence in all we do.” Those words guided me as I rose through the ranks. Today I’m concerned that they do not have the same meaning to our current leaders.

I was always taught that our people are our greatest resource. And they are. As a commander I always focused on my people. Those dedicated folks, both military and civilian, are the backbone of our military and they serve without question.

After more than 30 years of service, I see that what sequestration (and how we have chosen to address it) has really done is to remind us that, no matter how much we have served or sacrificed for our country over the years, in the end we are nothing more than employees.

What our elected leaders have taken from us is not money but our trust, faith and confidence. In my mind, this is far worse than a temporary loss of pay.

 
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