Courage is born of encouragement

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Etienne Tousignant
  • 86th Force Support Squadron career assistance adviser
There was a point in my life when I didn't see a future, but I found comfort through different base agencies. Adapting to our military lifestyle is not just difficult for our significant others and children, but also for those of us who joined.

As a career assistance adviser, I've had the distinct privilege of learning from thousands of people over the last 18 months, from men and women around the world, enlisted, officer and civilian alike. If there is one thing I have come to understand, it is that I am not alone. Each of us has faced the fears, pain, heartache and lack of motivation to move forward from where we are, but there is one thing we all share: encouragement from each other.

Allow me to share a few stories on how we make a significant difference, oftentimes without even realizing how effortlessly we have propelled someone in our lives onto a path where they will find courage, happiness and purpose.

A number of years ago a young man joined the ranks of my flight. When he walked through the door his lack of confidence was evident by how he carried himself -- poor posture and minimal eye contact. He faced challenges at unit physical training -- challenges that were exacerbated by his nutritional choices -- and he was unsure of himself in social settings. This manifested mentally through depression, which impacted his motivation to grow professionally.

However, nearly two years later his confidence shot up. He scored an "excellent" on his fitness test and has accumulated many friendships. In turn he has grown exponentially as a professional, all thanks to the men and women who helped him along the way.

Not every Airman is faced with as many obstacles in their first few years. One Airman had a strong foundation and began his career cycling throughout Germany and Alaska, all year-round. He was so fiscally astute that he bought his first car with cash, but still continued to cycle and saved the car for adventures with friends.

Professionally he did well, too, but admits his supervisors played a significant role in shaping his behavior on and off duty. Their encouragement shaped him into what we know today: retired 86th Airlift Wing Command Chief Master Sgt. James A. Morris.

However, these successes are not only among the enlisted. Another Airman began his career in the dining facility. After three months on active duty, he found his priorities were misguided much to the frustration of leadership. This Airman was an incredible worker, but his off duty antics and failure to take several warnings seriously resulted in disciplinary action that landed him in correctional custody.

During his stay, a senior noncommissioned officer had a heart-to-heart with him, emphasizing how valued he was by his co-workers and leadership. As a result of this significant life-altering event, coupled with heavy doses of mentorship, he was able to reach his full potential by becoming an officer and a commander on Ramstein.

There is one common thread in each story, and that is encouragement. Sometimes those of us who have already stepped up, need to step in and make our intentions known. A great way to reach someone is by inviting them to experience new hobbies and show them the local area. This type of encouragement could help build the confidence necessary to display the courage it takes to be an Airman on and off duty.

I have a challenge for everyone in our community. Have the courage to learn more about the people on your path and encourage them to share in healthy activities from cycling, camping or any number of volunteer opportunities. I throw out this challenge, because this is the encouragement my supervisors, friends and family provided me. This is how I found the courage to be who I am today, and through them I found my path.