Knowing Your Why

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Tracy Cornett
  • 908th Airlift Wing

Airmen, Wingmen, Warriors,

We often are asked to know our “why,” but do we take time out to understand it and put into action? 

I recently visited Kitty Hawk, NC. It had been several years since I visited that area. While there, I went on my daily run. On this day in particular, my run took me to the Wright Brothers Memorial.  As I ran through the park, I took a few minutes to pause and reflect on what this memorial meant to me as an American and an Airmen, and my “why.”  

Wilbur and Orville Wright came to North Carolina with a dream and a plan. They were often questioned about their wild dreams of flying something heavier than air. I’m sure they were often criticized and made fun of because of this. They didn’t allow that to stop them! They weren’t deterred from the constant distractions received by those who didn’t share the same dreams.  Through adversity, setback, and disappointment, they stayed the course. I truly believe the Wright Brothers were able to stay the course because they knew their “why.” Although they couldn’t fully explain or put it into action what their dreams of powered flight were prior to coming to Kitty Hawk, they knew they couldn’t stop until they had exhausted every opportunity and acted on every idea that they had thought of. 

As I entered the park, I felt a sense of pride and humility. I had to stop and remind myself, this is where our modern day airpower began. On one end of the park stands a 60’ memorial honoring the Wright Brothers. At the bottom of the monument are inscribed the following words, “In commemoration of the conquest of the air by the brothers Wilbur and Orville Wright conceived by Genius, achieved by Dauntless Resolution and Unconquerable Faith.” When I read the inscription, I truly believe the Wright Brothers understood that failure and setback would be part of their journey in succeeding in powered flight. It also strengthened my belief in that they knew the “why” behind what they were doing. Wilbur and Orville understood that failure would result in success one day. They continued to innovate and push forward. 

After spending a few moments reflecting at the memorial, I ran down the hill and onto the grounds to where the Wright Brothers actually flew the glider that they had hand built, affectionately named the “Wright Flyer.” As I ran past the markers on the ground, I realized how much work it took to make the multiple flights on December 17, 1903. The Wright Brothers made a total of 3 flights that day at three different distances of 120’, 175’, and 200’ respectively. This resulted in the first successful powered flight of any human. I then asked myself, what if they would have given up on their quest for powered flight after the first attempt at 120’? What if they didn’t know their “why” and continue to innovate after every flight so that they could go further and higher?

Let’s translate that into what we do here at the 908th Airlift Wing. The last 18 months have been tough. However, when I reflect over this past year and a half, I think about Wilbur and Orville Wright and what you all have done. I see some comparisons in knowing our “why” and continuing to innovate as the Wright Brothers did. You, the Airmen of the 908th Airlift Wing, are much like the Wright Brothers in that respect. Over the past 18 months you have proven time and again what it means to know your “why” while you continued to innovate. Col Drescher and I have watched many of you take a complex set of issues and continue to innovate until you were successful. Some of those issues are the ever changing pandemic requirements, largest deployment in the history of the Wing, and the proposed remission. I believe you were able to succeed at all of these things at the same time because you know your “why” in the Air Force Reserve and in this Wing. 

In conclusion, I would like to thank you all for what you have done, especially the last 18 months, and what you continually do every day. It’s obvious you know your “why.” I would give you one more challenge as we move forward. Take your “why” and map it all the way back to the more strategic picture of what we do for our country every day. Each and every one of you play an important role in what we do here and abroad. Knowing your why and where it fits into the larger picture will bring you continued success in the future.