My worst marathon…a success from the start

  • Published
  • By CMSgt. Atticus C. Smith
  • Command Chief, 388th Fighter Wing
It started at 21 miles, my stomach muscles got very tight, small cramps or "side stitches" began. The feeling was nothing new, having ran many marathons I had experienced this before. The cramps were signs of dehydration. My mind began to chime in: just 5 more miles, just 5 more miles.

As I hit 22.5 miles, the cramps turned into dry heaves. For the next 3.5 miles I embarked upon what I like to call a "character building event." My body told me that it wasn't happy; it's had enough and wanted to stop. But I couldn't stop, my race (mission) isn't over, and my mission is to win. "Winning" is crossing the finish line. The routine began: run, jog, trot, and stop for dry heaves; run, jog, trot, and stop for dry heaves.

The last 3 miles was an eternity and I crossed the finish line with my worst time ever. It was hard not to feel down. Perhaps I could blame it on getting "old" since my 37th birthday was just six days away; however, there was no need to rationalize it because regardless of how my race turned out, it was a huge success, a thought I had well before the start of the 26.2 mile journey.

The night before, I was standing in my hotel's parking lot. From a short distance away, a man approached. In the few moments before he actually reached me, I sensed he was about to say he knew me. I was right. He stated, "Hey, you were my NCO Academy Superintendent." I soon learned that he graduated from the Kirtland NCO Academy, a place I had served for three years. He proudly stated that he was running the marathon, his very first. Realizing how much desire, dedication, and determination it takes to set and attain such a lofty goal, I patted him on the back and told him I was very impressed. What he said next was what marked my marathon as a huge success, 12-hours before the start.

He said that the Commandant, CMSgt Larry Gonzales and I inspired him. At the time, I laughed it off; however, when I went to my room I couldn't help but reflect on his statement. We inspired him. What did we do to inspire him? Was it because we led the way with high fitness standards? Was he impressed to see two ole' "crusty" SNCOs out-run his fellow students? Was it our positive attitude? Was it because we didn't own a copy, nor would we ever own a copy of 1,001 Reasons Why I Can't Pass the Air Force PT Test? Whatever the reason, we had a positive impact on him. However, looking back, our actions were not extraordinary at all. We were simply defending the how behind the what.

Understanding what expectations the Air Force has of its enlisted force is easy, just read AFI 36-2618, The Enlisted Force Structure. It's crystal clear regarding what is expected. Expectations such as: be physically ready to accomplish the mission; meet all pre-deployment responsibilities; lead the way by promoting, supporting, and participating in the fitness program; actively support professional organizations; if a senior NCO, serve as a role model for all Airmen to emulate. So knowing the what is easy; however, where Airmen earn their keep is being able to defend the how, and supervisors should validate this during feedbacks and when preparing to write performance evaluations.

Supervisors at all levels should engage their enlisted members to validate the how behind the what. If done correctly you will begin to differentiate the "average" from the "truly among the best." It's quite simple really; let's say an Airman can't defend the how behind the what in 20 out of 30 expectations, it shouldn't be a surprise that they are not considered to "clearly exceed." Airmen who can defend the how behind the what, across the spectrum of expectations, are the one's capable of positively influencing others and they are the ones who are truly representing our Air Force well.

Often, it's hard to gauge whether or not you have a positive impact on others, especially when you hold a key leadership position; however, this brief encounter taught me that as long as you know what the Air Force expects, and your actions defend how you meet the expectations there is no way you can't set a positive example and be a role model.

Bring credit and honor to the United States Air Force and take care of each other in all your actions.