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NEWS | Feb. 11, 2014

Commander's perspective

By Col. Dennis P. Dabney 437th Maintenance Group commander

Joint Base Charleston finished 2013 very strong; one of our capstone achievements was providing logistics support at a national level after the passing of former South African President Nelson Mandela. His struggle against the oppressive regime in South Africa made him a historic icon.

Like many on that day, I monitored news and social media streams to read and listen to the reactions to his passing. What struck me the most was the far reaching impact his life had on so many people around the world. Several current and former world leaders came forward to speak about how Mandela had touched their lives. Presidents Obama and Carter, Prince William, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, various celebrities and musicians who sang for his freedom, all told personal stories of how they were inspired by his life.

The former South African leader and statesman's courage, leadership, humility and political acumen have been captured in many motion pictures, and his life will continue to be an inspiration to many on an individual level for years to come. Mandela's legacy even touched Joint Base Charleston as the 437th Airlift Wing and mission partners executed logistics support to President Obama as he attended the memorial events with other world leaders.

In a much more practical sense, JB Charleston will be heading into a period of transition with changes in leadership across the base. My question to you is simple: If you are newly arrived or nearing the end of your tour, what will be your legacy?

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a legacy is something that happened in the past or that comes from someone in the past. How will you be remembered?

A physically accurate but cynical view of leadership turnover is the "hand in the bucket of water" analogy. I heard this comparison early in my career when my supervisor told me not to worry about doing much because right now I am the hand in a bucket of water. When I leave and the "hand" is removed, the water will take the place of my hand like I wasn't even there.

I would argue that what is left when you depart your current assignment is your legacy.

Do your Airmen know what is important to you? Do you emulate the Air Force core values? Are you an inspiration to your Airmen? Do you know what is going on in their lives? Can you steer them to helping agencies when the time comes? Did you improve the unit and inspire innovation among your Airmen? Did you recognize, discipline, guide, mentor, direct and coach your team along the way? What kind of continuity will you provide to your replacement? Are initiatives and programs launched on your watch codified to continue in perpetuity? Did you reach your Airmen on a personal level through analog communication?

These questions and how you respond to them are the hallmark of leaving a lasting legacy and WILL make a difference in their lives. Your legacy does not need to change a nation or the course of history to be memorable on an individual level. It is the small but meaningful things that can make the biggest difference.

Those of you who have been in the Air Force for a while may receive glowing notes of thanks via e-mails or phone calls from those you served with in previous assignments. They remember your legacy. You may have also sent a note of thanks to leaders you respect and admire.

You were sent to JB Charleston to make a difference. Your position will turn over many times, but your legacy can last forever with those who served with you.