Picturing my legacy

Col. Matthew Kmon, 31st Maintenance Group commander, poses for a portrait at Aviano Air Base, Italy, April 18, 2017.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Cory W. Bush)

Col. Matthew Kmon, 31st Maintenance Group commander, poses for a portrait at Aviano Air Base, Italy, April 18, 2017. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Cory W. Bush)

AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy -- It’s safe to say the older you get, the more stuff you accumulate as you move from base to base, assignment to assignment. Therefore, it reasons that I have a lot of stuff in my office.

You might assume all the trinkets and beads are merely an indicator of my age – another ring in the tree – and you wouldn’t be completely wrong. I’m certainly moving up the age chart, and after 15 moves, the stuff in my office is a sort of ancient 3-D scrapbook.

I think it’s important to display this memorabilia because it documents my Air Force story to visitors and family. It all means something and conveys a story. It jogs my memory of people and places from my past and provides easy conversation pieces when mentoring young Airmen or sharing stories with old warriors.

I’m often asked if I have a favorite item. That’s a tough question, but two items mean more to me than any others. Amongst the wooded plagues extolling fortune and fame, surrounded by all the tokens and keepsakes, are two pictures.

The first photo shows a very young me, flanked by two eager Airmen. It was taken in 1987 in front of a newly commissioned F-16 Fighting Falcon. The second was taken many years later on the Royal Air Force Lakenheath flightline as we launched jets to strike into Iraq and Afghanistan. I look at both pictures every day because they remind me of how lucky I am to be an Airman and how important it is for me to maintain my competitive spirit.

The first subtly conveys three men eager to serve their country. One of the men died doing just that, and the other served for 20 years before joining the U.S. Marshals Service.

The second photo resonates with experience, scar tissue, and pride as the three men in the photo stoically enjoy a minute of victory before going back to the chaos of leadership. It strikes me, every day when I look at those photos, how little changed in my psyche from the first photo to the next. In the beginning I was eager, full of energy and devoid of experience. In the second I’m eager, full of energy and still loving every minute of gaining more experience.

At the end of the day, these photos remind me of the great honors I’ve had to have walked many miles of flightline with silent warriors, to have been part of many stories, to have felt the sting of failure and the downplayed passing of victory.

The men in those photos pushed me to be the best I could be. They kept my killer instinct alive. When I look at those photos I want to win just as badly today as I did in 1987, maybe more. Those pictures frame what I would later realize was my legacy, how I would be remembered and how I would move the ball for the Air Force.

I believe I was born a maintainer and destined to be an Airman. Those I served with made that destiny a reality and for that I will be forever grateful. What we do for a living matters. Your leadership matters and the execution of that responsibility as an Airman will set your legacy.

My advice to all Airmen is simple: Be great, take stock of your brothers and sisters, play to win, and occasionally take a photo so you can look back with nostalgic pride on the people you’ve walked the line with.