Corner post of core values set long before boot camp

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Doug Chowning
  • 334th Training Squadron commander
Air Force core values aren't handed out at boot camp with with uniforms.
Our core values do help us define our expectations, goals and standards, but we all learned values long before we put on the uniform. 

I learned a lot of my values growing up on a farm in Missouri. I particularly remember a simple corner post and the lessons I learned while setting that post into the hard, rocky Missouri soil.
Summers on the farm 

As a young boy, my summers were spent on the family farm, working in the garden, the hayfield, the barn and as the not-so-willing assistant in a host of other worthwhile activities. 

It wasn't all work and no play, but usually while my "city" friends were off swimming, playing and eating Frito pies, I was picking up rocks or shoveling the floor of the barn clear of ... you know. 

That particular summer my stepfather decided to replace a long length of fence and his assistant was soon pressed into action. The most important part of any fence is the corner post. The corner post we were working on was smack dab in the middle of the farm, and the middle of nowhere as far as I was concerned. Sure it was important, but we were the only ones who'd ever see it. 

Soil is no bargain 

In spite of our isolation, my stepfather took the usual care in setting that post. Missouri soil in that area is no bargain, so even digging the hole was a tremendous amount of work. We soon finished the hole, and as I held the post straight, my stepfather began placing stones around it. Starting at the bottom of the hole he carefully placed each small stone, one by one, into the hole then tamped it into place to make sure it was strong.
It was hot, I was bored, we were in the middle of nowhere and I had a Frito pie waiting for me in town. 

When we finally finish setting that corner post, I had to admit it was strong and something of a work of art in a Missouri farm sort of way. However, in my youthful wisdom, I just knew that it would've been just about as strong with half the effort. All the careful work of placing the stones was also buried underground where nobody would ever see it. 

I'll know 

So I asked, "Why do you put such effort into placing each stone if we just cover it up with dirt and no one will ever know?" It was one of those defining moments. Still covered in dirt, sweat dripping down is brow; my stepfather looked me in the eye and said, "I'll know." 

You see, you can't say "Do the right thing, even when no one is looking," because there's always at least one person looking ... you. To this day, my stepfather and I are the only two people in the world who really know what's holding that post in place, but I take great pride in knowing it was done right. 

Lifelong learning process 

That corner post is still standing today. When I'm home, I always look forward to seeing it. It reminds me of integrity, character and excellence. That post has never wavered from its' assigned mission. It's been rubbed on by the cows, pulled in three directions by fences and a gate, and once it even got hit by the pickup truck when a young boy was going too fast. It's still standing as a reminder of a defining moment in my education on values. 

Our core values of integrity first, service before self and excellence in all we do are a noble summation of what's a lifelong learning process.
Learning core values started long before we entered our Air Force and it certainly doesn't end there either.