It's what's on the mailbox that counts

Official Air Force Photo of Chief Master Sgt. Craig A. Neri, Superintendent, Air Force Technical Applications Center, Patrick AFB, Fla.

Official Air Force Photo of Chief Master Sgt. Craig A. Neri, Superintendent, Air Force Technical Applications Center, Patrick AFB, Fla.

PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- A few years ago Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force #5 Bob Gaylor visited MacDill AFB, Fla., to speak at a Community College of the Air Force graduation. He told a story about one hot San Antonio summer day when he and his neighbor were working in their front yards. After a couple of hours in the sweltering Texas heat, the Chief turned to his neighbor, a fellow Airman, and exclaimed, "Why do we do this?" His neighbor responded very clearly and without hesitation, "Because our name is on the mailbox."

As I was sitting in the audience listening to Chief Gaylor's speech, at first I didn't get his point. I thought, 'Yeah well, it's your house and of course you have an obligation to take care of it.' But, after the chief continued with his story, his message became crystal clear: the reason these Airmen spent three hours out in the blazing sun in triple digit temperatures working in the yard was because when someone passed their houses and saw their names on their respective mailboxes, the passers-by would know the residents of those homes worked very hard to maintain them and took enormous pride in their appearances.

What a great message! It's a lesson I believe we should think about when we carry out our mission every day.

There are two words from Chief Gaylor's story I'd like to focus on - hard work. Those words remind me of another lesson I learned as a young boy from my grandfather.

My grandpa was very familiar with the term 'hard work.' He used to say that hard work will turn your weaknesses into strengths, and I learned that lesson at a very early age. He and my grandmother owned 16 acres of farmland just outside Selma, Alabama, and my brother and I would spend every summer there from the time we were 9 years old until we graduated high school. Our task was to help around the house. Some tasks were small - hammering old nails in the barn, taking out the trash, washing windows, etc.

One huge undertaking we were responsible for was mowing the lawn. Their farm was only a couple of acres, but when you're 13 years old, a few acres seems much larger than it really is. We had two small push mowers - yes, the old-fashioned, two-wheeled, rotating blade kind! -- and an old riding mower. One of us would push while the other rode, and we would switch every now and again when it got hot. And boy -- did it get hot!

On those brutally humid Alabama summer days, it sometimes felt like the grass never ended. Just when we finished mowing, we'd find ourselves back on the mower to start all over again. For three months this merry-go-round of pushing-then-riding-then-pushing would occur. School would begin, then summer vacation would finally arrive, and we would be back on the farm to do it all over again.

One year, we had a bright idea to try to end this exhausting cycle. We decided to build a contraption that would attach the riding mower to the two push mowers and we'd be able to cut a huge track in the lawn. It only took one person to operate, and it would cut the lawn in half the time. It was ingenious, at least by teenage-boy standards, and we were proud of it. I would ride and my brother would lounge around in a hammock under a tree. In the end, we wouldn't work near as hard, but unfortunately for all of its efficiency, it wasn't very effective. We would miss a bunch of spots and the yard wouldn't look as nice. Well, needless to say, it didn't sit well with Grandpa, so he took our invention apart and sent us back to work. We were distraught and thought, 'Why would he want us to work so hard when there was a better option?' It wasn't until many years later I figured out the lesson he wanted us to learn. My grandfather was spot-on with what he preached to us regularly, and I believe it's the same message Chief Gaylor spoke so eloquently about as well: hard work is the foundation of excellence. It is what's on our mailbox!

Consider your product - whatever that 'product' might be. Are you proud that it has your name on it? Did you work hard for it? Do you routinely produce results that exceed standards? Is it a better product because of your hard work? If the answers to these questions are yes, then you're living the Air Force Core Value of, 'Excellence In All We Do,' and you've established the foundation for mission success. Through hard work, your weaknesses will become your strengths.

Be proud of your mailbox. Be proud to call it your own.