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Make the Most of Every Groundhog Day in the AOR

  • Published
  • By Col. Michael E. Gimbrone
  • U.S. Air Forces Central Command
AL UDEID AIR BASE, Qatar -- As I was flipping through the television channels recently, I came across the 1993 fantasy comedy Groundhog Day.  Appropriately, it was playing on a channel that routinely replays the same movie over and over again during a span of several days, which ties directly in to the movie’s plot.  If you’re among what I would estimate is a tiny fraction of people not familiar with the movie, the basic premise is that the main character—TV Weatherman Phil Connors, superbly portrayed by comedic genius Bill Murray—somehow gets stuck in a time loop where each day is Feb. 2, otherwise known as Groundhog Day.  


As the curmudgeonly Pittsburgh-based weatherman relives the same day again and again in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania—the home of the celebrated groundhog Punxsutawney Phil, who each year at Gobbler’s Knob in that town famously forecasts the remaining length of winter—he retains the education and memories of his experiences from every day, even though no one around him shares similar recollections or is even aware that they are trapped in a time loop with him. 


As I watched this classic movie yet again, I couldn’t help but think of the countless times I’ve heard people remark that their duty in the Central Command area of responsibility is like Groundhog Day, in that each day seems to be a repeat of the day before.  More often than not, the comment, “It’s like Groundhog Day around here,” is uttered as a complaint, or at least in a less than pleasant manner.  But as I reflected on the movie’s plot and how it correlates to life in the AOR, it dawned on me that viewing the theme of the movie or life in the AOR from that perspective is both a misinterpretation of the movie’s underlying thesis and a misuse of the time available while deployed. 


What I came to realize during back to back viewings of the movie is that the lesson Connors learned wasn’t that a repetitive day is a bad thing.  On the contrary, what he learned, and the basic moral of the story, is that one of the greatest benefits of every new day is the opportunity we each have to improve ourselves and to help better the lives of those around us.  So rather than focusing on the way that each day is the same, it is much more constructive to focus on the way that each day provides an opportunity for each of us to make a beneficial difference.      


In the case of Connors, after the initial shock of his daylong déjà vu wore off and after an untold number of days of desperation and despair—which included his kidnapping of his furry namesake Punxsutawney Phil ending in a fiery car crash—he began to settle in and accept his fate.  It’s at this point in the movie that the main character’s personal growth and development begin to blossom.  Throughout the repeating day, Connors learns the histories, habits, and Feb. 2 activities of Punxsutawney residents, and he uses his ever-growing knowledge to both his and their advantage.  For example, at a specific time each day, he catches a young boy who falls out of a tree, he provides a hot meal and comfort for a homeless man in the twilight of his life, he changes a flat tire for a trio of elderly ladies as their car rolls to a stop and he performs the Heimlich maneuver to save the life of one of the town’s leaders.


Equally as important as his philanthropic activities, Connors simultaneously undergoes a personality transformation, eventually progressing from unlikeable and standoffish to lovable and engaging.  Along the way, among other things, he learns how to ice sculpt, becomes a piano virtuoso, and memorizes passages of poetry, which he ultimately uses to capture the romantic interest of the producer of his weather broadcasts—portrayed by Andie MacDowell in one of her finest performances—who heretofore had viewed him at best with disdain.


Similar to what Connors discovered about his repetitive day, being stationed in the AOR shouldn’t be viewed as a challenge to be overcome, but instead should be viewed as an opportunity to be embraced.  Those who find themselves in a deployed environment should take advantage of their time by focusing on self-improvement efforts and community involvement.  One way of doing this is by setting goals at the beginning of the deployment, and spending some time each day or each week working toward fulfillment of those goals.  Attainable goals might include taking a college class, completing a professional military education course, working toward a specific physical fitness level, learning to play a musical instrument, becoming a master of a particular video game or all of the above. 


Along with personal development, it’s important for everyone to get to know the people on the base and in their deployed organization and to find ways to help make their lives better.  This might be through involvement in base activities, such as participation in a forum like an Airman’s Council, 5/6 Council, Top 3 Council or Company Grade Officers Council, or through volunteer activity elsewhere on base that makes a positive impact on the world at large.  This advice not only applies in the AOR, but it also applies to everyone wherever they might spend each day.


Ultimately, a worthwhile overarching goal for every deployed member is to finish each day as a better person, both personally and professionally, than when the day started, and to find a way to make a positive difference to those around you.  With continuous improvement as a foundation underlying each day, before you know it your deployment time in the AOR will be over.  And like Phil Connors at the end of Groundhog Day, you’ll be able to move on with your life knowing that in the end you’re better for it, the people you met are better for it, the organization you served in is better for it, and above all else, you truly made a positive and lasting difference that will continue to live on long into the future.  So my charge to you is to make the most of each and every Groundhog Day, wherever it may find you.