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Earning your wings this holiday season

JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md. (AFNS) -- How will you earn your wings this holiday season?

Like many of you, one of the things I enjoy doing every year during this season is watching the classic holiday movie "It's a Wonderful Life." Many of us probably know the film by heart at this point in our lives. But for those who have not seen it, here's a brief synopsis. The film is about an angel named Clarence who is trying to earn his wings and a man named George who plans to end his life by jumping off a bridge into icy water. The men cross paths when Clarence jumps into the water before George, to take George's mind off his taking his life.

Clarence's actions ended up taking George's attention away from his attempted suicide and instead had him focus on saving this old man (angel) who was now wildly flapping his arms trying to stay above water.

George was ready to end his life because he was convinced things would be better if he had never been born, but -- in fact -- things would have been much worse. He wouldn't have been there to save his brother from drowning, to help his neighbors secure desperately needed home loans or to provide a helping hand to his family.

George finally realized he made an impact every day in the lives of his family, friends and co-workers and pleaded with Clarence to let him live again. Clarence granted his wish and earned his wings by showing George how important his contributions were to the lives of others.

I never fail to take away a new insight or meaning from the film each time I watch it. I often wonder how many of us appreciate the impact we have every day on our fellow service members, civilian employees, family and friends? Whenever I have the chance to talk with students at Airman leadership School, I always discuss the important role first-level supervisors play in the lives of the Airmen who work for them. Time and again in climate surveys, the one thing our Airmen say they value most is a simple thank you or a pat on the back from their immediate supervisor. When was the last time you thanked one of your subordinates at the end of the day for their efforts? Have you ever told them how important they are or how they contribute to successful mission accomplishment?

As we prepare to celebrate another holiday season and ring in a new year, stop and think about an average day at any military installation. Maintainers are preparing aircraft to fly. Aircrews are flying combat and training sorties. Combat support personnel are providing the infrastructure and services needed to support our service members where they live, work and play. Medical personnel are caring for our most precious resource - our service members, family members and retirees. Instructors are mentoring and training our future leaders. It's not easy to keep all of these parts moving smoothly -- every single person plays a key role and is essential to success.

Whether you are a supervisor or subordinate, recognize and understand the powerful influence your words and actions can have on those around you. I know personally of several individuals who decided to re-enlist rather than separate and, in the extreme, to live rather than to die simply because someone on that decisive day said, "Thanks, you've done well and we appreciate what you do for the unit."

So during this busy holiday season, let's take time to remember those who are deployed by sending a letter or email and checking in on their family. Let's take time to visit those who must work over the holidays, standing watch at entry control points, operating control centers or caring for the sick and injured at our military hospitals. Let's all remember to celebrate responsibly over the holidays by using designated drivers and employing personal risk management as we deck the halls and hang holiday decorations around the house. And finally, let's take time to say thanks to the dedicated Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines who keep our country safe each and every day. Let them know how important their contributions are to keeping our nation free. Let them know they make a difference every day. You never know ... like Clarence, it just may help you earn your wings.