Actions speak louder than words

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. April Wimmer
  • 2nd Space Warning Squadron commander
In June 2012 my mother and I took my 3-year-old daughter for her immunizations. Following the shots, we were walking to the car and I was admiring the beautiful sunny day. Around that time I heard retreat sound and I stopped to render the appropriate courtesies.

As I stood there at parade rest, I heard my mother asking Amelia why she had stopped.  Amelia quietly replied, "it's the song Grandma." Again, my mother tried to encourage Amelia to get in the car.  Amelia said, "no Grandma, we stand still for the song." As soon as the national anthem ended, little Amelia began walking towards the car again. 

This simple event had a profound impact on me for three reasons. First, I learned that my actions speak much louder than my words. Second, I witnessed firsthand integrity in action, and it was executed by a 3-year-old. Finally, I realized what it means to be proud to be an Airman.

I have always heard the saying "actions speak louder than words," but never really understood how true it was until that moment. I had never once had a conversation with Amelia about retreat, the national anthem, or why we pay respect to the flag. She had merely witnessed it every evening when I picked her up from the child development center. It was not a deep and meaningful conversation that convinced her to pay tribute. It was my actions.

My daughter displayed the type of integrity in that moment that I hope she carries throughout her life.  Additionally, it is the type of integrity that I expect myself and all Airmen to exhibit.  Even though she was being pressured by an authority figure, her grandmother, she stood there like a statue and did the right thing.  Even though she was a child and there was an adult telling her to do something, she knew the right thing to do and no amount of pressure was going to persuade her to act against her principals. 

Unfortunately, this event was not all positive.  Across the street, there was an Airman who did not stop for retreat but chose to race to his car.  He jumped in the car just as the first note of the Star-Spangled Banner began and raced away as soon as the last note sounded.  Amelia asked me why he did not "stop for the song."  I really did not have a good answer for her.  How do you explain to a 3-year-old that some people find it too inconvenient to stand at attention for 1 minute and 56 seconds on a beautiful sunny day?  I simply told her that I was proud of her for showing respect to the flag that so many fought to defend.

Retreat on that amazing July afternoon had a profound effect on me.  I realized that I must always set the right example because people are always watching your actions.  I was reminded that integrity is not just for grand moments.  Integrity must be woven into our everyday actions.  Finally, I was reminded of how proud I am to be an Airman.

The next time you hear retreat sound do not choose to stand inside the doorway instead of stepping outside.  Do not choose to make a dash for your car because you do not feel like standing at attention.  If the child of someone who paid the ultimate sacrifice for this country observed your actions and asked you why you did not honor retreat, how would you answer them? Personally, I will always stop for retreat and take the time to reflect on the sacrifices that were made so our flag can fly!