MER Commander's Commentary - January 2016
The month started out with a fantastic visit to the North Carolina Wing conference in Raleigh. I had the opportunity to visit with them, hand out some awards, see a very moving CAP Gold Medal Ceremony, and some of us even had a chance to sing karaoke. It was a lot of fun and Col Dave Crawford and his staff put on a great weekend.
The following week was filled with Wreath Across America ceremonies. Maj Gen Vazquez and the MER Honor Guard presented a wreath at the US Capitol along with both Senators from Maine. The cadets did a great job watching over the wreath, honoring our veterans until sundown. Friday, CAP was honored to assist at the wreath ceremony at the Pentagon 9/11 Memorial Gardens. Cadets and seniors assisted the public in mounting a wreath on the wrought iron fence around the garden, one for each person killed during the attack. Lt Col JD Ellis, the DCWG/CV, coordinated the event for CAP and, with some other CAP members working at the Pentagon, gave tours after the ceremony was complete. The final event was the main event for WAA, where a wreath was laid at every gravesite at Arlington National Cemetery. CAP had over 250 volunteers assisting at ANC. The CAP/CC led the group laying wreaths to honor the four airmen buried at Arlington that have CAP achievements named after them.
Meanwhile 220 volunteers, led by Cols Ziggy Bernfeld, Jane Davies and Maj Jason Secrest took on the challenge of working with WAA truck captains to coordinate the unloading of 60+ trailers of wreaths. More than 70,000 people showed up to lay wreaths on the gravesites and it takes a lot of behind the scenes effort to make it appear easy. CAP members met at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall where the incident command post had been set up in a parking lot. Support from the base and the USO helped make the day go smoother.
On top of this, thousands of CAP members supported similar events at more than 1,000 cemeteries across the US and Canada. The WAA motto of "Remember, Honor, and Teach" was demonstrated all across the region by our cadets and senior members. Your support of this program, which started in 1992 as a small effort by the owner of a wreath making company in Maine, has grown into an international event. CAP was there in 1992 and will continue to support WAA all across the country. Thank you to every member who helped on the 12th and who supported WAA through fund raising and selling wreaths in order to place as many as possible on our veterans’ graves.
As we start each New Year, many of us make New Year’s resolutions. I know that each new year I resolve to be healthier and a little more patient among other things. One thing I would like to challenge all of you with this new year is to live by our core values. They are Integrity, Volunteer Service, Excellence, and Respect. I try and live my life every day turning these words into action. All of them are equally important but this month I would like to focus on Respect.
As many of you know, I was asked to wear-test the USAF ABU utility uniform for CAP by Gen Vazquez. This change is something that many CAP members have been asking for and our national leadership and the Air Force are working to make it happen. There is no guarantee we will make this change and it is a lot more complicated than most people realize but as part of the review process a handful of members have been asked to help out. A photograph of myself and the NER/CC Col Leclair wearing two slightly different variations of the ABU was taken at the WAA Pentagon ceremony. While it is a stretch to say we "broke the internet," the resulting traffic on social media was so great that while I was still at the Pentagon I received several text messages and calls from staff public affairs members of CAP letting me know that there was a significant increase in the volume of responses to the pictures. I clarified to them that Col Leclair and I were wear-testing the uniform for CAP with the approval of the CAP/CC and CAP-USAF and that the Office of the Secretary of the Air Force was aware of the test. By now you may be asking yourself, why are we focusing on Respect? It is because of the rather large amount of hateful comments made by people posting on a number of web sites and forums around the internet. My favorite definition of Integrity is to do the right thing even when no one is looking. It appears that some of us need to redefine the definition of respect to include "even when I am posting anonymously online.” Respect doesn't get put on hold when you sit down at a computer or pull out your smart phone and sign in as "airman#1" or some other nom de plume. It is with each of us in every comment we say or write. Spewing rude or vulgar comments behind the cloak of anonymity online is simply unacceptable. I do realize that some of these people are not CAP members. Most likely some are disgruntled former members who, for reasons known only to themselves, chose to troll sites related to CAP and provide their opinions. However, I am equally sure that some of our current members find themselves unable to resist jumping into the fray. Respect, just like integrity, means treating everyone the way you would like to be treated even when they don't know who you are. To be very clear, we are all entitled to our own opinions. In fact a wear-test is all about getting feedback on your opinions. Some opinions are negative and that is okay; what is not okay is crossing the line of respect in expressing your negative opinion.
I've touched on one aspect of communicating in writing on websites and social media but there is another potential pitfall that many people are not aware of. When most of us write it is almost impossible to express emotion or tone. When a reader is interpreting what you wrote they are affected by their own mood, the words they saw before your words and their overall thoughts on what you wrote about. If you were speaking to them they would have the benefit of your tone and nonverbal cues, but writing does not offer this to the reader. One method I use to help with this is to have multiple people proofread what I write. Yes, I am confessing that before you see these commentaries, three or four other people read them first and make me look much smarter than I really am (thanks - Lt Col Winter and Majors Reed and Knowles). You don't always have that luxury so my suggestion to you is to review everything you put out for others before you hit send and to follow that core value of respect.
The recruiting contest has heated up this month with two new members tied for the lead at nine members each: Maj Jacob Gerstein, DC-051, and 2nd Lt Alice Stange NC-145. Cadet Caleb Mize, NC-150, still holds the lead in the cadet category at 6. There is one member at seven and three members at six. The contest runs from 1 July 2015 to 1 April 2016 so there is still plenty of time for you to get into the race.
Let me close by saying thank you for 2015. We had an amazing year and 2016 looks to be even busier. Our safety program continues to be the top priority for our leadership. Sending everyone home safe after a meeting or activity is the most important thing we can do. In 2015 we made some tweaks to our program to stop punishing members by preventing them from participating in any activity if they did not get the safety box checked. This was a good thing but it seems to have led to a bad habit. I know you are having safety briefings at your meetings and that you are participating in the overall safety education program but some of you are failing to document it. The regulations still call for monthly safety training. The only way to document this for your SUI is through the safety management system. Please make sure you are keeping this up to date. It makes CAP a safer place for all of us.
Happy New Year!
JOHN M. KNOWLES, Colonel, CAP
Middle East Region, Civil Air Patrol