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Year of Leadership: Compassion

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- What does compassion mean to you? One common definition of compassion is to have sympathy for the suffering of others, often including a desire to help. Compassion is packaged and delivered in many different ways, forms and fashions. The first point is to recognize the presence of compassion within ourselves and the opportunity to offer help and support. As we enter this holiday season, we are prompted to help those in need or to demonstrate compassion. Whether it is those needing food and nurturing overseas or within our community, reaching out and sharing are forms of compassion. When we toss money into the kettles of the bell ringers, we demonstrate compassion.

As Airmen, how do we demonstrate compassion? What are ways we can not only empathize with those in need, but to also offer help? This week I watched a Team Pete Airman stop their car and offer a ride to someone walking to their destination amidst the cold, windy freezing rain. I also saw a Team Pete Airman help one of our retirees in the commissary who was having problems finding a particular item. I saw a Team Pete Airman deliver a bag of canned goods to the Care and Share shopping cart in the Fitness Center. I saw a Team Pete Airman deliver a carved turkey for the dorm residents Thanksgiving dinner. I saw a Team Pete Airman buying gifts for angels from the Angel Tree, helping children. I heard about a Team Pete Airman volunteering at the local soup kitchen offering food for those hungry and in need and a Team Pete Airman who donated to the Combined Federal Campaign, helping impoverished children. If we treat others with respect and compassion as we would like to be treated, we have taken the first step toward making a difference.

Following September 11, 2001 and at the start of Operation Enduring Freedom, I was completing a year of residency at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington D.C. I remember greeting our wounded warriors as they arrived and listening to their stories. They were proud of their fight for freedom as they lay on their stretchers with wounds, missing limbs, rearranged bodies, and battle scars coupled with psychological scars, wounds, and struggles. Amidst these physical and psychological strains, they were battling spiritual and ethical dilemmas, challenges, and questions. Through these conversations, a clear message emerged they wanted everyone to know. They were willing to give their lives in the name of freedom and the protection and safety of our country. They were willing to be our sword, shield, sentry and avenger. My callused heart was moved with compassion for their sacrifice laid on the altar of freedom. I wanted to "do" anything I could for them because these wounded warriors had done so much for me.

During this month of compassion this holiday season, many opportunities will unfold, giving you an opportunity to step forward. Stop and seize the opportunity to offer compassion to someone else and continue to look for those opportunities each day. These opportunities may involve people, organizations and facilities. If you see something wrong, do not continue past it. Stop! Address the problem and make it right with compassion. If you see trash scattered in front of your building; stop, pick it up, and demonstrate your compassion for where you work. As we offer compassion, remember that compassion comes to us from others. Seize the opportunity to offer compassion each day!

(Editor's Note: This article is one of several highlighting the Air Force Space Command Year of Leadership and its focus on Compassion.)