Civil Air Patrol

Commentary: Our core values – The glue that holds us together

By 1st Lt Sean Wardwell
Utah Wing Director of Public Affairs

What we do in CAP is easy to explain – aerospace education, cadet programs and emergency services. Yet, how many of us ask why we do what we do? We all enter for different reasons; however, the same code binds us – our core values.

Integrity, volunteer service, excellence and respect. As CAP members, these are the cardinal points on our moral and ethical compass. But, do we really ponder the deeper meaning of these values? Do we have faith in their wisdom? Have we internalized them? Together, let us take a deep dive into these concepts, because without understanding, our values are just words that sound noble, yet pay lip service to duty.

The core values are the glue that holds CAP together. Without them, we’re just a flying club at a costume party.
First, and appropriately so, there is integrity – the value which demands we don’t only display ethical behavior when we’re in the public eye, but always. Integrity calls us to a higher standard. Integrity expects more from us every day, and despite the sure and certain knowledge that we will, from time to time, make mistakes that dishonor ourselves, integrity waits with open arms for you to return to the fold. The only time it is too late to show integrity is when you’re in the grave. Until then, in these uncertain times, let integrity be the lighthouse in the storm, reminding you where safe harbor lies.

The second value – volunteer service – is simultaneously the most accessible of our values, yet also the opaquest. In fact, in all my time in CAP I’m only beginning to mine the deeper meaning of this value. At first glance, it seems obvious. We’re volunteers, and we serve. There it is. Simple, right? No. Not so much. Every time I tell someone about how much money and time I put into CAP, I ask how much I get paid, and then I smile inside just a bit when I see the incredulous look on some peoples’ faces when they hear the answer. I don’t get paid to do this. I pay to do this. All of us can walk away whenever we please. We’re not bound by a term of service. We’re volunteers in the purest sense of the word, neither expecting nor requiring financial gain or personal glory.

But that doesn’t mean we don’t get some kind of compensation. Every time I walk into a CAP unit, it speaks to my heart that everyone is there because they really want to be there. That’s the team I want to be on. That’s the team of which I’m fiercely proud to be a part. No, we don’t get money, but we get purpose and the knowledge that we did something good. There are all kinds of payment, and I find this sort to be the most rewarding.

Excellence is another value that seems obvious. Who doesn’t want to be excellent? We all want to excel. But, by what standard? In fact, is there even a common standard for excellence? One person might excel in running and physical activity while another may excel in math and science. Can someone who has lost the use of their legs excel in a foot race? No. We’re all built in different ways and bring different skills to the table. If integrity is the lighthouse, and volunteer service is the foundation, then excellence is the far horizon beckoning us ever closer to doing better tomorrow than we did today.

Excellence does not demand perfection, because that’s impossible. However, excellence demands effort and hard work, and it knows no slack. Of all the core values, excellence demands the most, but it is not the only one making that demand. The communities we serve demand excellence. The people we try and save demand excellence. The country to which we owe our allegiance demands excellence. They have every right to do so. How much of that value do we demand of ourselves? Well begun is only half done, and our value of excellence motivates us to go all the way in all we do. When lives are on the line, as they often are, we owe those people needing help excellence in all things. We owe it to ourselves.

Then, finally, there is the value of respect. Anyone who has spent any time in interpersonal relationships (e.g. everybody) knows respect is sometimes…difficult. Inside all of us there is a voice that, when asked for respect, answers, “Okay, then earn it.” In many ways, or respect is the value not most difficult to observe, but the most difficult to grant. When we feel disrespected, the compulsion is strong to return said disrespect with interest. Were I to say I personally respect every person I have met in CAP, I’d be lying to you. In fact, there’s a great many I simply can’t stand. But, internally, that’s okay. We’re only human.

However, teams do not grow in the garden of disrespect. Nothing grows in that garden, least of all the kind of esprit de corps that keeps teams strong. Without respect, units die. Enmity grows. All of us suffer because we can’t part with respect. It has to be earned. And, you know what, that’s not an incorrect statement. Respect is precious because it also confers trust. So, if one finds if difficult to respect an individual, try respecting the following things: the uniform; the grade a member holds, be it higher or lower than you; their position; their professional knowledge; or the fact they cared enough to show up to a meeting when they could be doing something else.

It reminds me of an old military saying. You don’t have to like it. You just have to do it. However, respect given is respect received. When that happens, trust develops. When trust develops, the team comes together. When the team comes together, the mission gets accomplished and we all go home at the end of it.

Five words covering four values – deceptively simple but complicated in practice. At Region Staff College this year, the point was made that all of us must be free to discuss and internalize these values – to make them more than just words.

It is up to us to make these words real, because without them, we won’t be “One CAP,” we won’t be “Total Force,” and, worst of all, we won’t be useful to anyone.

And, at that point, why even show up?

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