Ring tale: Earnings vs. entitlements

  • Published
  • By Maj. Grant Hargrove
  • 387th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron commander
My grandfather and I were extremely close. He was a great storyteller, and the stories I cherished the most were his tales as a military policeman in the Army during World War II. The source of his favorite story was a ring he acquired during the war.

During his deployment to France, my grandfather guarded some German prisoners. One day, a prisoner approached him wanting to barter for his cigarettes, and in the end, a pack of Lucky Strikes was exchanged for an 18-carrot gold ring complete with a European coat of arms.

To my grandfather, the ring was a treasured possession. It wasn't worth much monetarily, but to him it was a piece of history and an heirloom. Through the years, my grandfather repeatedly promised the ring would some day be mine, but it would not simply be a gift, it would have to be earned.

I lost my best friend during my freshman year of high school when my grandfather died. As it always does, life went on. I finished high school and went to college where I became interested in criminal justice and was later selected for officer training school with a follow-on assignment to the security police academy.

After graduation, my parents threw me a send-off party prior to officer training school. There were a few presents, and I eventually got to a very small box. The note attached was from my grandmother. In it, she wrote about how much my grandfather loved me and how proud he would have been of me graduating college and going into the Air Force. The note recanted the story he had proudly told me a hundred times about the ring exchange with the German.

After a lifetime of childhood promises and eight years after his death, my grandmother's note ended with, "You're grandfather wanted you to have this ring. I think you have finally earned it."

To my grandmother, volunteering to join the Air Force was the final measure of me earning my grandfather's most treasured possession. For me, I often define my Air Force experience and think of leadership in terms of earning the right to be here and stay here.

As a society though, we live in a culture of entitlements. Our well-intentioned government creates a variety of programs to give its citizenry a helping hand. Through time though, this helping hand becomes status quo and expected by the citizenry. Once this helping hand becomes viewed as an entitlement, expectations of the citizenry are lowered, our culture is relieved of individual responsibility, and a handy excuse for failure and mediocrity is created.

The entitlement culture is a fact of life. The challenge is to keep that entitlement culture from bleeding over into our military way of life where it blurs and degrades our sense of service and excellence. You don't have to look very far to see the creep of this culture.

How many average performing Airmen have you spoken to who think they are entitled to a 'Firewall-5' evaluation performance report or an end-of-tour decoration when in reality they have earned much less? How many times have you heard the discussion where someone espouses what they are entitled to as a service member, just by virtue of the fact they enlisted in the military or have deployed numerous times? And how many times have you seen the honor of re-enlistment perceived as a right or entitlement when in reality it is a distinct privilege that is earned.

We've all been there. Eventually, we all get sucked into one of these belly aching sessions where the rights and wrongs of the Air Force are discussed and the opinions fly about what we have earned or what we consider to be entitled to.

When I find myself questioning the system, I try to step back and take a moment to reflect. I usually catch myself looking down at my grandfather's ring on my right hand. I think about the fact that he volunteered to serve in World War II with no sense of entitlement and fought his way across Europe against incredible odds. When I think of my career in these terms and I look at myself to see if I'm doing everything I need to be in order to earn the daily privilege to lead and command, my sense of entitlements and the frustrations they can bring tend to melt away.

What did you do today to earn the privilege and honor of continued service in the United States Air Force?