(January 22, 2010)
|KADENA AIR BASE, Japan (1/19/2010 - AFNS) -- You may not
have met Technical Sergeant Stephen McGrath, but he works in
the explosive ordnance disposal shop here.
On Nov. 18, 2007, Sergeant McGrath was on a deployment in
Iraq when an enemy force engaged him and a platoon of
soldiers with direct small-arms fire. He responded admirably
under the pressure during this intense, life-threatening
situation and as a result he received the Air Force Combat
The citation accompanying the medal states, "Tech. Sgt.
McGrath's tactical fortitude and great courage ensured
optimum shielding of coalition forces resulting in no
injuries during the fight against the enemy."
How did Sergeant McGrath muster this "great courage" to
protect the soldiers he was with? Do you have courage? Would
you have responded the same way? Can you be a courageous
person, even if you've never been in combat?
One broad description of courage says: "Courage is what
makes someone capable of facing extreme danger and
difficulty without retreating. It implies not only bravery
... but the ability to endure in times of adversity."
From my perspective, there are two kinds of courage:
physical and moral.
As Airmen, we're all expected to have both physical and
moral courage because, like Sergeant McGrath, we're all
expected to deploy to dangerous places to defend our
nation's interests. Fighting a war requires both kinds of
courage. But, on a day-to-day basis, in garrison, most of us
face more difficult moral decisions than tough physical
It's ironic, then, as Mark Twain observed, that "physical
courage should be so common in the world and moral courage
I was raised on a cattle ranch in the western United States
and so I identify with John Wayne's statement that "courage
is being scared to death... and saddling up anyway."
"Saddling up" is a cowboy's term for making a decision, or
taking action, rather than being physically or emotionally
paralyzed by a hard problem. It's important not to confuse
courage with sheer physical strength. A person with courage
has a strong internal compass and the fortitude to act on
his or her beliefs.
One scholar emphasized this when he said, "true courage is
not the brutal force of vulgar heroes, but the firm resolve
of virtue and reason."
According to the Airman's Creed, we all aspire to be
"faithful to ... a legacy of valor." Carl Sandburg said,
"Valor is a gift. Those having it never know for sure if
they have it till the test comes. And those having it in one
test never know for sure if they will have it when the next
Sergeant McGrath surely passed that test. But he didn't
miraculously become courageous by just that one heroic act.
I imagine he developed courage by a lifetime of making good
choices every day.
Aristotle said, "Moral excellence comes about as a result of
habit. We become just by doing just acts, temperate by doing
temperate acts, brave by doing brave acts."
If we want to have courage, we must do courageous acts,
things like: resisting peer pressure to drink underage or
pencil whip a record; obeying the law by observing simple
traffic rules; and giving an honest day's work for each day
you are paid. Over time we will build a habit of making
small, courageous decisions.
And regardless of the challenge that ultimately comes our
way, we, like Sergeant McGrath, will surely be Airmen who
leave our families and our nation an honorable legacy of
By USAF Col. Kirk Davies
18th Wing Staff Judge Advocate
Air Force News Service
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