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Moms enrich nation, fortify communities, strengthen family life

KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, MISS. -- America will celebrate Mother's Day this Sunday and I hope you are ready! Our mothers are so very important not only to us, but to our society in general. The family is the center of our society, and mothers are the center of the family. In the Air Force, our core values are integrity, service and excellence in all we do. Yet, the Air Force didn't teach me these values...my mother did, and I'll bet your mom did too! The values of honesty, responsibility, decency, and hard work are taught to us by our mothers. The lessons that mothers teach us truly are lessons of a lifetime. Their efforts fortify the bonds of family life, strengthen our communities, and enrich our nation. 

But before I start sounding too much like a Hallmark card, let me just say this: no one truly appreciates their mothers until they become parents themselves. There's no way we can properly thank our mothers for the long hours and hard work that they put in raising children. It is a high-wire act, balancing love and discipline, a time-consuming and stressful job with long hours, no pay, no days off, and no chance for promotion. It's not a job you can resign from or draft a resume and look for a better position to replace it. It's a commitment for life. It takes a strong woman to do it well, and keep up the effort over the many years of childrearing. 

The saying that "The hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world," is no understatement. There is no undertaking more challenging, no responsibility more awesome, than that of being a mother. In my opinion, there is no more powerful a position in the whole world than being a mother. 

It reminds me of back when I was a young squadron commander. We had an airman who was something of a problem child. Airman "Clyde" (not his real name) was a big bruiser of a city boy from Washington D.C. whose attitude was definitely in need of adjusting. His uniform was a mess. He didn't show up for work on time. His room was a mess. He was caught sleeping while on duty. He swilled beer and didn't work and play well with others. Despite being the star running back of the base football team, he was no team player. His supervisor, his NCOIC, and the first sergeant were beside themselves in trying to turn him around yet couldn't find a way to get his attention. 

Well, we tried to do the right thing in Airman Clyde's case. He was brought before his immediate supervisor, who tried to turn him around, to no avail. Then his NCOIC took his best shot at trying to turn him around, and again, no dice. When my first shirt got a hold of him I thought for sure he would turn around, because the first shirt was an experienced and wonderful counselor. I was surprised and a little bit disappointed when he told me he couldn't do a thing with this fellow, either. 

One night, things came to a head when Clyde became engaged in an altercation with a foreign national man in dorm area and broke the man's nose. Airman Clyde was trouble with a capital "T," and he found himself facing his last chance. After going up the chain with no change in his bad attitude, it was now my turn to attempt to show Airman Clyde the error of his ways. When the first shirt brought him into my office and he stood before me, I knew the problem. His athletic prowess and self-described "good looks" gave Clyde a confidence and attitude that were way out of phase with his behavior...he was a jerk who had always been able to dodge responsibility for his actions. He was a big, tough guy who was impervious to criticism, critique, or suggestion. It brought to mind the question raised in the famous paradox, what happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object? 

As Airman Clyde stood before me in a slouch, looking cocky and a little bored--he'd heard it all before, and he was sure I wasn't going to make a difference, either. My eyes ran over his personnel file open on the desk before me. Name, age, birth date, hometown, home phone...then the idea hit me. If we in the Air Force, with all our powerful weapons and great people, couldn't get through to this airman, it was time to unleash our nation's greatest secret weapon on this young man. 

"Airman Clyde, we have tried to get you back on the right path ever since you've been in this squadron and you have repeatedly ignored the advice, counsel, and orders of your supervisor, NCOIC, the first sergeant and your commander. What does it take to get your attention?" I asked. 

"I dunno," was all I got from this airman. 

"Okay Airman, then you leave me no choice but to call your mother," I said. Suddenly, this slacker, who couldn't give a hoot what kind of punishment I gave him, suddenly became very respectful, and begged me not to call his mother. 

"Please sir, not my mom!", he pleaded. 

I was undeterred and launched our secret weapon; I dialed the number to his mother. She answered the phone and I identified myself as Clyde's commander, gave her an overview of the issues we were having with Airman Clyde and asked for her advice on how we could get through to her son to get him back to being a productive airman. 

"Captain, please put my boy on the phone," she said. 

"Here," I said, holding out the phone to him. "She wants to talk to you." 

He took the phone, sheepishly saying "Hello, Mom," and then he became quiet for about thirty seconds. I don't know exactly what she said to Airman Clyde, but it was like the teacher on the Charlie Brown cartoons. We could hear her speaking very deliberately and loudly to the young man yet we couldn't make out what she said. The tough guy airman suddenly started crying and promised his mother that he would start making her proud and apologized profusely. After a few moments, his body language suddenly changed. His slouch disappeared, and suddenly he was standing at full attention, back straight, shoulders back, looking quite the fine airman. 

"Sir," he said, holding the phone towards me. "My mother would like to speak to you." 

"Yes ma'am?" I said. 

"You won't have to worry about my boy giving you any more trouble," was all she said. I thanked her for her time and hung up. 

"Airman Clyde," I said. "We aren't going to have any more trouble from you?" "No sir," he said. And while Airman Clyde did not stay in the Air Force past his initial enlistment, we never had any more problems with him. In fact, several years later, Airman Clyde found me via the Internet and called me to thank me and my sergeants for getting him on the right track in his life and to report he had turned his life around and was a successful police officer. 

So, back to the famous paradox, what happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object? I submit the irresistible force is the power of our mothers and nothing is more powerful than a mother's love, more profound than a mother's wisdom, or stronger than a mother's devotion to her children. America's mothers are our nation's secret weapon. 

On this Mother's Day, I'd like for us to have a special remembrance of the mothers of our military personnel. Even as they worry and pray for their children, they provide support and encouragement for their sons and daughters defending our freedom in places far from home as well as around our great country. And don't forget to remember the many mothers wearing the uniform of the United States Armed Forces, serving their country honorably, doing their best to defend this country in time of war. The bond between mothers and their children is one defined by love. As a mother's prayers for her children are unending, so are the wisdom, grace, and strength she provides to her children. On this Mother's Day we should not forget the great debt we owe to our Nation's mothers, for their love and devotion to a most difficult duty. Please call your mom and tell her you love her.