Strive for ‘the soul of a warrior’

SEYMOUR JOHNSON AIR FORCE BASE, N.C. - -- In a recent address to the Corps of Cadets at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, the Secretary of the Air Force, a West Point graduate himself (Class of '66), spoke of the Profession of Arms and its call for the "highest standards of courage and integrity" which demands "character beyond the norm." I was prompted by the Secretary's address as well as by the "Pillars of the 4th Fighter Wing," which our commander recently set before us, to contemplate the message each of these senior leaders has for us.

Our commander asks us to reflect on the larger reasons we serve and to recharge our spirits. He also tells us that we need to reflect on the dreams of our forefathers and look beyond the years so we understand what it is we fight for. How I conceptualize what is being asked for is conveyed in this article's headline: The Soul of a Warrior. You may have your own term that captures your understanding of the same thing; it can be put in many different yet effective ways.

We live in an extreme time; a time when denial of the spiritual is common. We fight on different fronts, and much is asked of us. What will see us through? Of what does the soul of a warrior consist, and what is it that sustains that warrior soul through the worst, the most extreme times and conditions? And finally, what is it we fight for? My answer follows.

Most importantly, the warrior soul possesses a deep, unshakeable faith in a greater good; one that is vastly bigger than oneself. This faith inexorably leads to a selfless devotion to serve others. Needed also is an unconquerable spirit and, if necessary, the courage to make the ultimate sacrifice for that greater good.

Once that commitment is made, all lesser sacrifices fall readily into line. A burning desire for truth is required, along with the courage to always face the truth without self-deception or the deception of others. Conformance to truth is the essence of humility, the wellspring of all virtue. Although humility is widely misunderstood, it has the power to transform the world. Indeed, it has been said that only those who have acquired it truly understand it [Please note: The writer in no way presumes to have acquired humility but is striving still!]. Simply put, humility consists in truth: Self-knowledge and subjection of the will.

Added strength to the warrior soul is provided by patience and fortitude. In fact, patience is more essential to strength of soul than food is to strength of body. A caution is in order: We are not here referring to unreasonable patience; as one great authority informed us long ago, "Unreasonable patience is the hotbed of many vices." Our time is characterized by a fevered, restless pace; novelty and change are ever-present. These features potentiate the excitability of our nature which often requires restraint. Patience will prevent us from sinking under the weight of the burdens of our days, including boredom should it occur. It is useful to remember that impatience and humility stand in stark opposition to one another.

Was 336th Squadron ace Don "Gentle" Gentile exhibiting genuine fortitude during his wild aerial combat exploits of WW II? He sure was. Fortitude is necessary to the warrior soul when facing danger. Fortitude is not irrational; it is directed by right reason and removes the obstacles of fear and reckless daring in the pursuit of a good that is difficult to achieve. Fortitude greatly increases the probability of mission success. A reckless disregard of danger is opposed to true fortitude as is, of course, cowardice.

And how about Rosa Parks, who refused to give up her seat on the bus in Montgomery, Alabama on December 1, 1955; did she act in conformance to the truth? Yes, indeed. Did she possess the soul of a warrior? Absolutely! Did Thomas More, beheaded by Henry VIII in 1535, for his refusal to renounce the faith, possess the soul of a warrior? Most certainly he did! Did George Washington, father of our country, live in accordance with the soul of a warrior? Yes! In his First Inaugural, President Washington spoke of the "sacred fire of liberty," words which could have come only from a warrior soul who was referring to a flame lit from above.

A warrior soul must be strived for; it must be cultivated through the hard work of practice. The Fourth Fighter Wing is a premier warfighting organization that carries a heroic legacy and counts among its members many warrior souls. They are in our midst right now, right here, in each unit and in all specialties. The warrior soul is what made this organization so great in the past and it is what will continue to make it great now and in the future.