Uniform inspires act of honoring Airmen

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Donna Walle
  • 56th Medical Group
On a recent trip to a bookstore, I was approached by a man in his late 30s to early 40s. 

He seemed nervous and upset - avoiding eye contact and shifting his weight from one foot to the other. My guard went up immediately. In 22 years of military service, I've heard some negative things said about the military, my branch of service, my choice of occupation given my gender, and the general displeasure with government policy at large. The challenge has always been not to take these statements personally. 

In the early '90s at the height of Desert Storm, I came up with the following response, delivered as non-confrontationally as possible. "You seem to be very passionate about this and I take pride in helping defend your right to voice an opinion different from my own." Trust me when I say it works like a charm 99 percent of the time. 

So here I was, ready with my trusty response, when the gentleman looked up at me, his eyes brimming with tears, and said, "I recently lost my brother in Iraq. I don't want to talk about it because it's still too fresh, but it would mean the world to me if you would allow me to purchase those for you." 

I was dumbstruck. I blinked back the tears welling up in my own eyes and tried desperately to keep my voice under control despite the lump quickly forming in my throat. I thanked him and walked to the waiting cashier. 

When the transaction was completed, he thanked me several times. I shook his hand saying how sorry I was for his loss and thanked him for his generosity. He looked me directly in the eyes and said, with a smile spread across his face that emanated from deep within, "No, no ... thank you!" 

To say I was humbled by this does not do justice to the experience itself. For that brief moment, I had the honor of representing something good and decent for this man who had suffered a deep personal loss. It reminded me once again never to take lightly what this uniform represents to those who see me wear it. For some, it can be a negative symbol of all that's wrong with the world, but for others, it represents a beacon of hope and so much more. 

May you wear your uniform with pride wherever you go, and always remember, you represent so much more than just the name embroidered above your right breast pocket.