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Shoulders of Giants

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Steve McDonald
  • 451st Air Expeditionary Wing Command Chief

How much do you know about Sir Isaac Newton? 


Newton was born in 1643 and died in 1727.  He was an English physicist, mathematician, astronomer, alchemist, inventor and philosopher.  He is best known for discovering the laws of gravity. 


There is a phrase, which Newton used in a letter written in 1676 to his rival Robert Hooke.  Newton wrote, "If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants."


Think about that phrase for a moment.  Newton was giving credit to all those who had preceded him and made major discoveries in the world of science.  His insight and understanding was due, in part, to the scientists and thinkers who went before him.  He felt a debt of gratitude to them for his own understanding.  I also feel a debt of gratitude to others and can apply this phrase in my own life in many ways.


Militarily, there are literally hundreds of thousands of American soldiers who have given their lives that I may have the freedom to serve my country voluntarily today.  117,000 U.S. soldiers died in World War I.  More than 400,000 U.S. soldiers died in World War II.  33,000 U.S. soldiers died in the Korean War.  58,000 U.S. soldiers died in the Vietnam War.  My father also fought in the Vietnam War with the U.S. Army.  The sacrifices of the military men and women who have served before us have paved a path that allows Americans, including me, to live in a land of freedom.  As an enlisted person, I have a rich heritage of enlisted Airmen who have preceded me.  I can only hope to honor them by living up to the standard they have set.


Professionally, I have attained the rank of chief master sergeant in the United States Air Force not so much on my own merits, but on the merits of people I have worked for, people I have worked with, and people who have worked for me.  It is largely due to the teaching, mentoring and support of others that I am a Chief.  I owe a great deal to people like Staff Sgt. Patrick Strauser, Leon Martin, Master Sgt. Mike Poligala, Army Master Sgt. Harold Dawson, Tech. Sgt. Bo Weeks, Chief Master Sgt. Kevin Soltis, Chief Master Sgt. Harry Viel, Tech. Sgt. Steve Bauch, Brig. Gen. Bill Bender and many others.  I can only hope to honor them by doing my best in executing my day-to-day duties.


Personally, I am the man that I am today because of the influence of numerous people in my life.  My parents, my siblings, my wife, my children, my friends and my God have shaped and molded me with values, principles, understanding and patience.  If there is any good in me, it is due to the effort and dedication of people such as them.  I can only hope to honor them by being a man of integrity and understanding.

As you can see, I definitely stand on the shoulders of Giants.


Have you thought lately about whose shoulders you stand on?  You did not get to where you are by yourself.  How are you honoring those who have led you to the person you are today?