Education, the Medal of Honor, and "Blackhawk Down"

  • Published
  • By Col. Ken Stefanek
  • 39th Air Base Wing vice commander
A few years ago, I had the opportunity to see Michael Durant speak at a graduation ceremony.

Those of you that have seen the movie "Blackhawk Down" may remember that Durant piloted a Blackhawk helicopter shot down over Mogadishu in October 1993.

As hostile Somalis converged on Durant's helicopter, two U.S. Army Delta Force operators, Randy Shughart and Gary Gordon, rushed to Durant's aid and held off the heavily armed Somali crowd, saving Durant's life.

Shughart and Gordon, who both died defending Durant, were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for their actions that day.

Durant's message to the graduates was the things we read and study actually define who we are. His explanation for this is that the character traits we display are learned from reading and studying.

To illustrate his point, Durant spoke of a trip he took to Gordon's hometown after his experience in Somalia where he participated in the dedication of a street honoring Gordon. In preparation for the event, Durant visited the public library in Gordon's hometown and checked out a book on Medal of Honor winners.

At that time you could see who else had checked out a given book by referencing an index card inside of the book. To Durant's surprise, one of the people who had previously checked out the book on Medal of Honor recipients was Gary Gordon, himself now a Medal of Honor recipient.

In Durant's illustration, Gordon's reading about Medal of Honor winners prepared him for taking the heroic actions in Mogadishu that resulted in Gordon winning the award.

Our off-duty time is precious and we have many choices regarding how to spend that time. While it may be easy to hang out, watch TV or DVDs or play video games, these activities do little to prepare us for the challenges we'll likely face on our journey through life.

Conversely, taking advantage of educational opportunities or reading the right books will pay huge dividends, not only in our professional and personal
development, but also to our career progression.

It is no secret that the Air Force places a premium on education as we spend a lot of money on numerous tuition assistance and other educational programs. I urge each of you to take advantage of these programs and other educational opportunities.
Doing so will prepare you for future challenges and help you as you continue to ensure freedom's future.