As a First Lieutenant in the US Air Force in 1990, I played my one and only racquetball tournament at Eaker Air Force Base, Arkansas. SSgt Donny Johnson, an avid racquetball player in my flight talked me into entering in the “C” division or novice category, while he was in the “A” division or expert category. Saturday morning I arrived just as my 8 AM match was to start. I lost soundly to the eventual “C” division champion. Even though it was double elimination, I contemplated “throwing in the towel” and heading home for some sleep, but I stuck it out and played another match, then another and another in the losers bracket. Finally I was done and had to dart back home before the rest of the various matches were done.
First thing the following Monday morning, SSgt Johnson summoned the majority of the office together into our area. He showed everyone his large multi-level trophy and pronounced himself as the base champion (winner of the “A” division). Next to his trophy was a simple trophy with the word “Consolation”. It was the 3rd place trophy for the “C” division. Unbeknownst to me of my good fortune since I was not present for the awards ceremony on Saturday. SSgt Johnson proceeded to make the presentation and declared “Lt LaBenne is the Winner of the Losers!”
That phrase, “Winner of the Losers” has stuck in my mind for nearly 30 years now. In fact, throughout my career, it has reminded me to never give up. All of us face challenges in our careers, both professional and personal – family separation, long hours, tough supervisors (or commanders), missed promotions, endless studying for our job or degrees, divorce, financial hardship, ups and downs of raising children. Some folks give up under the pressure. Others buckle down for the ride.
Everyday, each of us needs to be attentive to our co-workers for indicators of stress or problems. Sometimes people just need someone to listen. As members of the AF family we do not have to go the road alone. For those situations more complex, we have other avenues. There are always folks to help, our base Chaplains, Family Support or Life Skills. If you are not sure of who can help or what to do, a great starting point is your First Sergeant or Commander.
Even to this day, I have kept that trophy to remind me that I am the “Winner of the Losers”, but more importantly it reminds me to never give up, even when I fall short. I know I can regroup and continue to pursue my goal – nearly always with success. So if you are even in or near Contracting, Bldg 318, Altus AFB Oklahoma, stop by my office and catch a glimpse of my trophy and ask to meet the “Winner of the Losers”. END
NOTE BY AUTHOR: Article was originally written in 2001. Today, I still have my trophy in my home office in Angeles City, Philippines.