What's Your Excuse?

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Mark Batcho
  • 71st Medical Support Squadron commander
As a new squadron commander, I've frequently found myself looking back over my career in an effort to recall the many life lessons I've learned and how I can apply them to my new challenges. While the lessons learned along my journey have been abundant, there are a few events I remember as particularly noteworthy.

In March 1990, I was a flight commander at the 510th Strategic Missile Squadron at Whiteman AFB, Mo., and blessed to have a squadron commander named Col. Tom Gioconda. Colonel Gioconda embodied all the right stuff - exemplary attitude, decisive, empathetic, always out front but never in the way.

It was late in the afternoon one day and there were a few of us in the orderly room when Colonel Gioconda walked through on his way out to recognize a quarterly award winner. As he walked past, he asked if we were joining him but stopped at the door when he didn't hear a response. He turned and looked at me and another lieutenant and said, "this ain't a dress rehearsal guys, let's go." Like all good Airmen, we jumped when the commander spoke and walked down the hall to congratulate our award winner.

I didn't realize it at the time, but looking back that phrase has stuck with me over the years like few others. It was an insignificant comment, a simple statement from the boss, but the lesson behind the words was huge. Recognize your people, get over yourself, take care of your troops and participate in their lives...no matter how small you perceive the occasion to be.

How many times have you been too busy to recognize someone, or maybe too busy to spend needed time with your spouse or child? Did you dismiss it thinking the same opportunity would come around again, and maybe missed the opportunity to make a positive difference in someone else's life?

There is another day I remember well, a more recent lesson learned that stuck. It was "Wingman Day" for Air Mobility Command and Scott Air Force Base in November 2004, with a full schedule of wingman topics slated at an off-base convention center in Collinsville, Ill.

On the agenda were the very appropriate and important - and typical - wingman topics of suicide prevention, mentoring, life skills, family care plans and more. Also on the agenda was a keynote speaker, a man named John Foppe. John was a professional motivational speaker and author of several books, including one titled "What's Your Excuse?"

John was born with no arms and wore no prosthesis. He spoke for over an hour and paced the stage like any other speaker. Unlike any other speaker, he used his feet to drink a cup of coffee, straighten his notes and pour a glass of water without spilling a drop.

Initially, I found myself somewhat mesmerized by his physical limitations, but that was quickly overcome by the power of his words. John's message was simple - all things are attainable and all things are within your reach. I sat and listened intently and distinctly remember John describing in great detail the difficulty of getting through a routine day. "I battle the limits everyday, but I don't let them hold me back," he said.

Since then, I've often thought about how failure to accomplish a task or attain a goal is almost never due to lack of resources or ability, but usually upon self-imposed limitations and the excuses we place on ourselves.

We all struggle with things or conditions that get in the way of living the life we envision. It's never about the condition, but rather it's about our response to it.

What keeps you from meeting your personal goals? Your physical fitness? How about your relationships with your spouse and family? Most importantly, what keeps you from improving and overcoming your challenges? What's your excuse?

In our business, regardless of your position or duty title, there's a constant temptation to get caught up in the issue of the day, or sometimes our own self-importance. Try not to let the small things get past you unrecognized. Try not to listen to your own excuses that prevent you from achieving a needed goal.

I've tried to remember these small lessons and apply them when I can. I hope you do also.