Dragon Corner: A case study in Air Force core values

  • Published
  • By Capt. Jordan Light
  • 334th Training Squadron
So what does it mean to live the Air Force core values? That's a fair question with nuanced answers. However, there are talismans showing us these answers all around. One I have recently seen is the life of Airman 1st Class Antoine Holt. Let's look at his life as a case study for living the core values.

Holt grew up in Kennesaw, Ga. He was an admitted bookworm and dedicated to his studies at an early age. He graduated at age 16, went to Georgia State, and enlisted in the Air Force. Holt served as a command and control battlefield management operator. He attended technical training here at Keesler in the 334th Training Squadron His job was to identify and control aircraft similar to the way E-3 Sentry airborne warning and control systems does from the sky.

However, Holt was not just another brick in the wall that protects our nation. He also loved as deeply as he lived. He married his college sweetheart, Patricia, and they had a daughter, Carmen. In his free time, Holt enjoyed reading and expressing himself through the beauty of poetry.

Holt's career in the Air Force was short, but the impact he made on those he served with was lasting. Always thoughtful and kind, Holt's joyful and precise demeanor drove his attitude towards work as equally as his relationships.

One of the stories most often told about Holt comes from a base field exercise in Italy. During the exercise, Holt was assigned to guard duty. While preventing an intrusion, he was cut by the perimeter wire. After seeing the medic, Holt received a single stitch. This resulted in the nickname "Stitch," a nickname that still brings a smile to those who were deployed with him.

Unfortunately, Holt's life was abruptly cut short on April 10, 2004during a mortar attack on Balad Air Base, Iraq. But we can do more than simply remember his life; we can learn from it. Because, woven in the fiber of Holt's being are the core values of integrity, service, and excellence. As we unravel the details of Holt's life, we see how he gracefully displayed the values we are called to integrate into our daily lives.

Now reflect on the opening question: What does it mean to live the Air Force core values?

Holt manifested excellence in his life from an early age. Remember, he graduated from high school at age 16. This wasn't done by passing one class early or merely excelling in one subject. He was diligent in all of his studies. Furthermore, he demonstrated his aptitude through all 12 grades. This is the essence of what the Air Force means by excellence. It is a virtue that we should apply daily to every aspect of our lives. In short, excellence is a core value that must permeate consistently throughout all of our actions.

The late Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi explains it best when he said, "The quality of a person's life is in direct proportion to their commitment to excellence, regardless of their chosen field of endeavor." Clearly, this holds true for Holt's life.

Service before self is tricky because who we serve is not expressly stated. However, by delving into how Holt embodied service in his life, we see that we don't serve the country at the expense of the Air Force. Nor do we serve the Air Force at the expense of our families. By putting service before self, Holt served his family, his unit, the Air Force and the country in the highest possible way. The late UCLA basketball coach John Wooden said, "You can't live a perfect day without doing something for someone who will never be able to repay you." Holt took this to the next level, as we can never repay him for his service to our country.

Finally, Holt demonstrated integrity in an extraordinary way. To Holt, integrity was more than not cheating on an exam; it was the difference between life and death. Airmen in his career field literally have the lives of pilots in their hands. This form of integrity is shown through loyalty to a team -- the team on the ground and the team in the air. It is the way each member of the team can perform his or her individual task knowing they will receive that same support and loyalty from others on the team. Holt was watching his teammates' backs and we should do the same.

Despite his ordinary outward appearance, Holt's life was exceptional. His daily life was punctuated by our core values in a way that each of us can learn from and emulate.

*Author's note: The Airman 1st Class Antoine Holt Memorial will be rededicated at the Avery Manor drill pad on June 12, at 8 a.m. His home unit at Aviano Air Base, Italy, had built a memorial to him, but the unit was recently deactivated, so the memorial was sent to Keesler, where Holt began his career, so future Airmen can honor his memory.