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News > Commentary - The spirit of giving: an important aspect of military life
The spirit of giving: an important aspect of military life

Posted 12/11/2012   Updated 12/11/2012 Email story   Print story


Commentary by Airman 1st Class Krystal M. Jeffers
20th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

12/11/2012 - SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C.  -- As the holiday season approaches, people are filled with the "spirit of giving." Presents are carefully picked and bought at stores, then wrapped up in pretty ribbons and bows and are placed under decorated trees.

The spirit of giving means more than getting gifts for loved ones though. During the holiday season, many volunteer programs show case this, like Toys for Tots, the annual Shaw Cookie Drive, and Operation True Giving.

The spirit of giving concept is not limited to just the holiday season though. The military highly encourages service members to volunteer year round. Perhaps this is because volunteering empowers both the volunteer and the people the volunteer helps. After all, not only do volunteers end up helping the community, but they also learn many values that are important to the military like responsibility, service before self and confidence. By volunteering, I also gained self confidence. Knowing that I was not good at something and that I was helping people empowered me.

Volunteering encompasses a wide range of activities that are both big and small. Some of those activities include donating toys to holiday charities like Toys for Tots and Operation True Giving; donating food or time to food banks, soup kitchens or animal shelters; visiting the elderly at nursing homes that don't commonly receive guests; adopting a struggling family for the holidays and helping provide gifts or a holiday dinner; adopting a service member with nowhere to go for the holidays; mentoring a child at school; or donating money to local, national or international charities.

I have been an active volunteer since elementary school when I was first introduced to volunteering by making dog treats for the local animal shelters. Though I cried for the animals when I toured the shelter, I liked being able to help them. When I joined the military I stayed an active volunteer, helping out when and where ever I could. My leadership decided to award me with volunteer of the quarter for Wing Staff Agencies to recognize my efforts. I didn't volunteer to win the award. Actually, when I heard that I was submitted for the award I had little confidence of wining it because I have never won anything before, even when I tried. I was shocked and very happy when I did win.

Winning the award doesn't change the fact that I love to help people who don't have the means to help themselves. For me, the greatest joy of volunteering is seeing the other person's face light up with happiness and knowing that I just did something good for them. Individuals face hardships throughout their lives and some of those hardships can be too much to bear alone whether it is a student struggling with school, a family struggling to pay for food, or a parent struggling to provide even a small holiday for their children.

Personally, I like knowing that I could have been like many others and go through my daily life focused on my own troubles and not giving others a passing glance, but I chose instead to stop and helped someone. For example, I have mentored children and not only helped them with their school work, but also provided them with a reliable role model; spent a few dollars at the store and donated food to the food bank; and spent time assisting the local Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. All I am doing is practicing one of the Air Force's core values, 'service before self.'

Service before self is more than choosing work before personal life. Service stands for more than our doing job, it stands for our nation. Service before self means choosing to help our nation and communities before helping yourself.

Along with service before self, volunteering also teaches citizenship, responsibility, and patience. Volunteering involves interacting with the locals who often possess a different cultures than what the service member grew up with. By being exposed to the different culture and viewpoints, service members learn tolerance and gain a wider range of perspective. This makes them more empathic which will benefit them as they rise in rank and begin to lead others. In addition to learning tolerance, service members gain a better understanding of the community and thus a better understanding of the nation and its people that we swore to protect.

The spirit of giving isn't a seasonal concept, but an ideal that should be practiced year-round. No matter what your reasons are for volunteering - like rounding out your enlisted performance report, making a stronger package for awards and special-duty assignments, or just filling up time - in the end, volunteering isn't about one's self, but about helping others and giving back to the community. It empowers both the civilian and the military community, empowers the service members volunteering and empowers the people who the volunteer helps.

12/13/2012 4:36:14 PM ET
Airman 1st Class Jeffers writes of something vital and so important to our society and military life. Volunteering giving of ourselves to serve others growing in our ability to think of others rather than self are necessary for a healthy society family and military community. Her article brought to mind the first innaguaral address of President John Kennedy in 1961 who I think might have been aware of a growing individualism and selfishness that was different from the previous decades. His words Ask not what your country can do for you ask what you can do for your country. A spirit of selflessness altruism and service to others is so needed in our coutnry today. Thank you A1C Jeffers for sharing your experience and reminding us of this important value
Fr. Peter Sousa, Palmetto Chapel Shaw AFB
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