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Putting our problems in perspective: visual reminders

As the officer in charge of officiating the dignified transfers of fallen heroes between an aircraft and a transport vehicle, Maj. Emily Arthur, currently the 47th Contracting Flight commander at Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas, then filling the shoes of the Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, contracting commander, found herself in a meaningful role. Her eyes were opened to the realization while her issues may seem big, others have also experienced tragic loss. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Daniel Hambor)

Maj. Emily Arthur, 47th Contracting Flight commander, at Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas, reminds herself daily that she has much to be thankful for, and even on bad days, she is able to uphold a positive attitude. She describes how she uses visual reminders as a method for putting her problems in perspective, helping her remain positive. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Daniel Hambor)

LAUGHLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Texas—If you’ve ever visited my office, you’ll notice that I have a framed photograph hanging rather prominently on my back wall. The picture is of an Air Force Honor Guard member, diligently standing guard over two flag-draped caskets in the back of a C-17. This picture serves as a reminder of one of the most important jobs I have ever held in the Air Force.

As a young captain stationed at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, in 2010 I unexpectedly found myself as the acting squadron commander of the contracting squadron for about 7 months. My first day on the job, I received a phone call from the base mortuary. The caller informed me that all squadron commanders on base had the additional duty of officiating dignified transfers throughout the year.

For those who are not aware (as I wasn’t at the time), a dignified transfer is the transfer of a fallen hero between an aircraft and a transport vehicle. When an aircraft arrives at Dover, the process is called a dignified transfer. Once the mortuary processing has taken place, the fallen hero is then transferred back to a waiting aircraft to take them to their place of burial; this process is called a reverse dignified transfer.

Dover’s Port Mortuary is responsible for the return of all Department of Defense personnel from overseas contingency operations, and 2010 was a busy year for mortuary operations. During my seven month tenure I ended up officiating 29 transfers, each of which left an indelible mark on my mind. From the sobbing 18 year-old pregnant widow to the family with 5 children under the age of ten, each transfer gave me a profound respect for those members and families who have sacrificed everything for our country. While definitely not the most enjoyable job I’ve ever held, my time at Dover definitely stands out as my most sacred duty.

Having this picture hanging in my office reminds me to keep my problems in perspective. On any given day, it’s easy to become frustrated by the issues that surround us. Whether it’s your email not working, your sortie getting grounded for weather, or the fact that you didn’t have time to work out today, these issues can seem all-consuming to us in our daily environment. This picture helps bring those problems into perspective for me by reminding me that my problems could be a lot worse. I’m sure our nation’s fallen heroes and their families would love to be experiencing my “problems,” instead of facing the loss they have experienced.

While everyone’s problems are valid, I find that putting mine in perspective on a routine basis helps keep me grounded and enables a good attitude at work. Having the visual reminder of my photograph allows me to reflect on my past experience while reminding me that there are some who have sacrificed everything in service to our nation. While there may be times when we don’t want to put our problems in perspective, sometimes a visual reminder like mine can make it happen naturally.

Do you have a method for putting your problems in perspective? If not, I challenge you to find one; it may actually make you grateful for the problems that you have.