***image1***In 480 B.C., at a place called Thermopylae in northeastern Greece, 300 Spartan warriors and a small host of allies began making preparations for war. Their mission: hold off the advancing Persian Army of King Xerxes, some say more than a million strong, while the armies of Greece could be assembled. For six days the battle raged until only a handful of Spartans remained. In their final stand, this last group of fighters paid the ultimate sacrifice to the last man. The time these soldiers had stolen from the Persians was enough, and King Xerxes was later defeated by the Greek Army.
The great battle at Thermopylae has become synonymous with extraordinary courage, heroism and most importantly, self-sacrifice. We who serve in the U.S. Air Force recognize the honor in self-sacrifice and include it as one of our three core values – Service before Self.
Although any military member could be asked one day to give their life for their country, Service before Self means more than just this ultimate sacrifice. To truly embody the value, it must become something we practice daily, not only while performing our military duties, but in our private lives as well.
In today’s fast-paced world, it is easy to become caught up in the many issues, errands, schedules and appointments confronting us. Without even noticing, we are suddenly thinking only of ourselves and shutting out the cares and needs of the people around us.
We forget or lose interest in how our words and deeds might be affecting others, and don’t realize how negatively we may be perceived even by our own comrades. Maybe we cut someone off in the parking lot just to get the elusive spot, or walk right past a parent with three children trying to bring packages into the post office so we can get to our own mail.
These are the small opportunities given to us each day to rise above our own cares and serve others. You need not go searching for good deeds all the time, but as you go about your daily business, keep the Golden Rule in mind by treating others as you would like to be treated.
By doing this, being aware of those around you and taking action when someone else is in need, you will find Service before Self becoming a way of life and gain a renewed sense of respect for others and yourself.
It wasn’t easy 2,500 years ago, and it’s no easier today. But like the Spartans before us, we don’t always expect things to be easy, and we strive to hold ourselves to the higher standard required of those whose responsibility it is to defend our nation’s people.
The Spartan warriors fighting in Thermopylae knew well what they were being asked to do, as did their families. They lived and died honorably in service to others. Their selfless actions echo from an ancient stone carving on the battlefield, “Go tell the Spartans, stranger passing by, that here, obedient to their laws, we lie.”