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NEWS | Sept. 24, 2013

Be an ambassador

By Col. Dennis Dabney 437th Maintenance Group commander

Recently, Joint Base Charleston celebrated 20 years of flying, fixing and supporting C-17s. During the two-day celebration, senior leaders entrusted Team Charleston to overcome obstacles and serve as welcoming hosts. To accomplish this mission, everyone (regardless of rank, position or service) was asked to put their best foot forward and help in any way they could. You were also asked to solve complex problems and take on challenging responsibilities to ensure that when our visitors arrived, they could reflect on our unique mission and their brush with history. In short, this vision demanded that joint base personnel act as ambassadors. I think the role of ambassador directly applies to each of us and has a far reaching impact if we choose to take on that responsibility not just during special events, but every day.

Before the TDY hiatus, I had several opportunities to travel in uniform. My uniform became an immediate ice-breaker that allowed others to share war stories and discuss loved ones who served. After the obligatory, "Actually, I'm an Airman," politely followed by, "No, I don't fly planes," I often got the chance to talk about what I do. The conversation sometimes meandered into memorable assignments, recent deployments or my take on current defense issues of the day. The exchange usually ended with a, "Nice talking to you, thank you for your service ... good luck." I made a point to capitalize on those moments; to share my pride in the highly motivated, educated, talented, hard working men and women with whom I share this uniform.

I never thought of myself as an ambassador, I was just being friendly and sociable. After all, when you hear the word ambassador, you may think of highly trained and experienced diplomats; or perhaps foreign service personnel our country sends overseas to represent the U.S. Those highly specialized State Department representatives engage other heads of state to further U.S. interests or enhance political relations. An ambassador may be one of a few U.S. citizens in a country or among a high population of American citizens living abroad. Either way, that person represents the best the U.S. has to offer: highly polished and well versed in local customs with diplomatic skills to spare.

However, when you look at what our country asks ambassadors to do, I think you see some similarities with the military way of life. Taking on such a position demands commitment and sacrifice. Ambassadors sometimes relocate their families and take posts far from home. At times, ambassadors serve unaccompanied and are separated from their families and loved ones for long periods of time. Finally, ambassadors are assigned duties that may put them in harm's way. Why would someone do that? They have internalized convictions to promote the values of the U.S. Depending on the location, they receive little fanfare for their efforts bolstering relations with the host country. This quiet dialogue facilitates trade, commerce, travel and protection for U.S. citizens who come to that region. Sound familiar?

There's a popular social media theme going around that show a series of pictures or caricatures of what a person thinks they do, what their friends/family think they do and what they actually do. We take our military way of life for granted. After 24 years, I've realized that not everyone understands what we do or some may have a very narrow view of our service and its mission. I challenge you to share our story as often as possible by making your social interactions meaningful and informative. You may not know it but you have all of the tools and attributes to be an ambassador.

Take the time to share what you do, offer your expertise, leadership and problem solving skills to those in need. You may be the only Airman (or American) someone meets on a given day. These types of interactions could happen downtown or while traveling abroad. We all know how many chances you get to make a first impression. Be an ambassador and make a world of difference.