Do you have character?

Master Sgt. Gary Moon, 714th Training Squadron first sergeant

Master Sgt. Gary Moon, 714th Training Squadron first sergeant

LITTLE ROCK AIR FORCE BASE, Ark. -- As a young boy, I was given chores around the house to accomplish. One of those chores was washing the nightly dinner dishes by hand. We had a perfectly good dishwasher so it's understandable that at 10 I would find this chore a complete waste of time. On one particular night, in a fit of righteous indignation, I complained about how unfair this was. My mother, ever calm, said, "It's good for you, it builds character." Over the course of my childhood this became my mother's mantra. I often thought to myself, who needs this much character?

Now many years later, I ask myself, was mom right; did the dishpan hands I received from the hours spent scrubbing pots actually succeed? Do I have character? What does it mean to be a person of character? For me good character is distinguished by three major components: having integrity, giving your best effort and taking responsibility for your actions.

Have the integrity to do what is right, every time, no matter who is or isn't watching. All too often we cut corners or take shortcuts because it is faster and easier. Other times our own desires get in the way of doing what is required. Unfortunately these habits are insidious and each time we allow them to happen they become easier to repeat, and before long we have lost sight of what is expected and blurred the edges between right and wrong. Unfortunately, taken to the extreme this can lead to jail time, or worse, the loss of life.

Hand-in-hand with integrity is giving your best effort. We all have our strengths and weaknesses and rarely are we only asked to do tasks we perform well. More often we are charged with assignments for which we have little skill. When these situations occur we have to overcome our limitations, rise to the occasion and give our best effort. Many times we will surprise ourselves with hidden talent; other times we will fail. If we are secure in the knowledge that we gave the task our best effort, we need not feel embarrassment for failure. Instead, we learn from our failure and build our experience. A wise man once told me, "It is okay to be wrong. Learn from your mistake then don't repeat it, and try not to be wrong very often."

This leads directly to the last attribute I use when measuring character. Accept responsibility for your actions - no excuses, no equivocations. Make a decision and stand by it. If you are wrong, learn from it and move on. This is one of the hardest lessons to learn and it becomes more difficult as a person's scope of influence increases. It is always easy to accept responsibility when you are being congratulated for a job well done, but when the results of a decision you made do not go quite as planned you must have the strength of character to account for your actions. A former commander gave me this piece of advice, "You will never have more than 80 percent of the information you need to make a decision, so be prepared to explain yourself."

I've had a long career in the military and have had many great mentors who helped me build my character, but none as influential as my mother. She pushed me down the right path by teaching me the principles of integrity, giving my best effort and how to take responsibility for my actions. She did this by simply repeating her mantra, "It's good for you, it builds character." So let me take this chance to say - thank you mom, for your words of wisdom - and ask those of you reading this, do you have character?