Building character

  • Published
  • By Maj. Paul Schaum
  • 460th Contracting Squadron Commander
The debate of nature versus nurture continues to rage as to whether or not an individual is born with specific behavioral traits or learns them from personal experiences. As a father of four, I am more convinced that nature has a guiding role over whom each of us are, starting from our development inside our mother's womb. However, the guidance we receive from our parents, other family members, mentors and peers has the ability to greatly shape the person we become and the character that we exhibit. 

The United States Air Force Academy defines character as the sum of those qualities of moral excellence that stimulates a person to do the right thing, which is manifested through right and proper actions despite internal or external pressures to the contrary.

Ultimately, I believe the struggle between the two rages within each of us every day; but in the end it is our moral character that shows the existence or lack of attributes like integrity, courage, fortitude, honesty and loyalty.

As we grow in adolescence and as an adult, we have the opportunity to observe the character traits of those around us and make conscious decisions to choose the positive qualities that we want to emulate and build upon. As adolescents develop, the desire to be around others who share the same standard of values emerges; ultimately many people with this similar mindset are drawn to public service and the military as they become adults. Whether we enter the Air Force as a civilian, enlisted member or officer, otherwise known as CEOs -- a term Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Rodney McKinley popularized -- and Airmen, we all answer a calling and commit ourselves to the highest standards to be part of the world's best air, space and cyberspace force.

Character building never ends just because we attained entry and acceptance into an elite part of society. From our most junior to our most senior members, we cannot rest on our laurels and be satisfied that we have nothing more to learn from each other. After almost 15 years of active duty service and the respect from my supervisors, peers and subordinates, I still observe the positive traits in other people that I want to further emulate and the negative traits in the same people that I make note of to avoid or help them to self-correct.

Is anyone ever perfect? I don't believe so, but I believe we can react perfectly to a situation. The degree to which we may improperly react in some cases has to be self-monitored and closely controlled and avoided. As an individual if you cannot continue to build upon your character and self-correct your deficiencies, your acceptance into the United States Air Force could end prematurely and not under ideal conditions.

As Airmen, we need to always be open to building upon our character, which will regularly continue to strengthen the moral fiber that binds the Air Force together. As Wingmen, we need to set the example for other Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors and Marines, as well as being the model of moral character for the people and government that we support, protect and defend.