Thanksgiving, optimism go together

EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska -- Happy Thanksgiving! Thanksgiving has been my favorite holiday since I was a teenager. The primary reason, besides the great food and winter sports, is that Thanksgiving was the only holiday I got a chance to gather with my extended family. Since joining the military, Thanksgiving has been a time of year to gather with friends and celebrate the blessings in our lives. At times it can be difficult to recognize blessings in our lives and I think one of the key themes of Thanksgiving is optimism.

Optimism is closely tied to commitment. We are seldom committed to things or ideas that at their core we are not optimistic about. Commitment is one of our core values: Service Before Self. There are few people left in the Air Force that don't understand or live "Service Before Self." So what does this have to do with Thanksgiving? If you look back at when Thanksgiving has been celebrated I see a clear connection with optimism. The Pilgrims at Plymouth Colony had lost over half their population as they celebrated their first Thanksgiving. Instead of giving thanks for the help they received from the Native Americans they could have easily been bitter and remorseful over their losses. Similarly, Abraham Lincoln was the first President in many years to declare a national day of Thanksgiving. He did this during the middle of the civil war. Without optimism and a commitment to ideals there would have been few things to give thanks for.

It is easy to see many parallels between our current situation and those earlier Thanksgiving celebrations. Our ops and deployment tempo is high, under manning and underfunding seem to be the norm, and there is no forecast of change in the short term. Just like the Americans before us, if we focus too close on the problems at hand we can miss opportunities to be thankful.

With the benefit of hindsight it is easy for us to see the reasons why the Pilgrims and Abraham Lincoln could give thanks in the middle of very trying and difficult times. I read Gen. Colin Powell's book several years ago and recently reread parts of it. One part I reread was his famous list of "rules for success." There are thirteen, but two jump out at me. His number 1 rule is: "It ain't as bad as you think. It will look better in the morning." His final rule is: "Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier." If this philosophy works for a top advisor to three Presidents and the Secretary of State for a fourth it might be worth my time to try.

I think it's important for us to practice a little foresight to help us give thanks. Imagine ourselves a few years from now. We'll have stories born of hardship but validated by success. We are transforming our Air Force as significantly as any point in its history while performing monumental acts in Iraq, Afghanistan, and throughout the world. We are keeping America's citizens safe and proud. You are making this happen. Things will look better in the morning. I am already proud of things historians are going to write about what we are accomplishing now. Draw strength from this and tackle tomorrow with the same energy and dedication you used today.

In the coming weeks, pause at some point to give thanks and practice a little optimism. As you celebrate Thanksgiving in whatever tradition you have, please try to take a few moments to "give thanks" to your family, friends, and fellow Airmen who have supported you throughout the year and let them know how much their sacrifice and commitment to our nation has meant to you and your mission.