​By Maggie Woodward

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photo credit: Max Pixel

A friend recently asked me which assignment topped my list of rewarding tours during my 32-year military career. Without hesitation, I responded that my time as wing commander at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, was at the top. She asked me why, so I explained.

In Tampa and across the state of Florida, I found people who valued integrity, hard work, ethical and physical courage, and service before self. These values are also what I found serving with the world’s greatest Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen for more than three decades. They are the foundation of character. Tampa was a great home.

Throughout my service, I was always in awe of the people around me. There was never a doubt in my mind, that when called, they would rush forward when others would pause, stand steadfast in the face of overwhelming odds, and if circumstances required, would selflessly ignore a hail of hostile bullets to protect their brothers and sisters in uniform.

No state could claim to be their home. They came from all our cities, farms, fields, deserts, foothills, and valleys. Until they put on the uniform of our nation, they were just the kids down the street. Then, one day, perhaps when they expected it least, they found themselves in the raw violence of war, knowing just one thing for certain. That to their left and right were people who would die for them, and for whom they would die.

The service members I served with did not pause to think about themselves. They did not ask what was in it for them. It was always about the person to their left and right. It was never about “me”; it was always about “them.”

In this divided time, I may have stumbled upon one thing that can bring all Floridians and Americans together in agreement. That the commitment our servicemen and women display every day to those to their left and right, may inspire us to be better people.

Today, we are confronted with a widening gap between the values of the American people, and those values reflected in the actions of the current administration.

The American people would never ignore intelligence that indicates our adversaries were paying bounties to Taliban fighters who kill the moms, dads, and children of Americans. In America, our word is our bond, and policies that threaten the social security we paid for and the health care and insurance we were promised, are inconsistent with who we are. The American people would never “fall in love” with dictators who threaten our nation, nor would any of us ever explain away the pandemic related deaths of more than 200,000 Americans with the extraordinary indifference of, “it is what it is.”

Some say values do not matter. All that matters in life are results. But an administration that lives by American values would confront, not embrace, those who threaten our nation. An administration that values the lives of every American, young, and senior, rich, and poor, would lead us through this pandemic, rather than ignore it.

Neither candidate running for president is a hero. But one is driven by a commitment to serving the person to his left and right, while the other has absolutely no idea who those people are. One candidate is compassionate and recognizes that only a nation of character and values may truly lead the world. The other is exclusively focused on himself, using coercion and threats to make the person to his left and right display unearned loyalty. One candidate is a person of character, who shares the values of the people I met in Tampa and across Florida. One is not.

With 330 million Americans to the left and right of a president, we must elect someone who recognizes America is not an experiment designed to serve its leader. It is instead an experiment designed to serve its people.

When we vote for President, I sincerely hope we return to our most noble roots and choose Joe Biden, a person who will lift up the people to his left and right, just as American servicemen and women have done for centuries. If we do that, America will once again be the exceptional global leader the world needs, and every American deserves.

Margaret “Maggie” Woodward is a retired Air Force Major General who commanded MacDill Air Force Base from February 2005 through March 2007. She also lived in Daytona Beach and has traveled extensively throughout Florida.

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