Places and belonging

Have you ever heard someone say, "I don’t think I belong here anymore?" Maybe you’ve felt that way before. It’s a little bit of a lonely feeling, maybe with some melancholy thrown in for good measure.

But what about the sense of peace we experience when we know we do belong somewhere…as if a piece of us resides in that place.

I’m blessed to have many places where I know I belong. As the Fort Smith Regional Air Show approaches, I can genuinely — and with a sense of wonder — say I "belong" at the 188th Fighter Wing.

Since the summer of 2005, I haven’t really spent much time on the base. Every now and then I get invited to a public shindig or have a meeting there, but the past few weeks I’ve had a couple of opportunities to be there and at Razorback Range.

Even the men and women I’ve been working with lately treat me so well — even though they weren’t in the BRAC trenches with us in the summer of 2005. They were most likely in harm’s way — deployed in a hostile zone.

During my most recent trip to the Arkansas Air National Guard base, I wondered what attributes gave me that feeling of belonging amongst scattered pieces of A-10 Thunderbolts and the shells of these combat birds that are affectionately known as "Warthogs." The maintenance crews didn’t know me. They were busy going over their inherited aircraft with fine tooth combs, working to attain a critical "mission readiness" score. Historically, this unit is tops among Air National Guard units. They’re determined to continue that standard of excellence with the A-10s they now maintain.

I can honestly say I don’t feel a sense of entitlement when I step foot on base. I don’t belong there because I earned the right. Being there amongst our citizen soldiers is a privilege. So that welcome feeling isn’t generated from within. It comes from the people around me. They treat me with respect. They seem to value me, and they care about me — as they do every visitor who comes through the security gate.

So, it would seem that a sense of belonging can be derived in the people who occupy a place. It behooves us, then, to be welcoming to others. To value and respect them. And to honor them.

If we want Fort Smith to be a place where professionals belong, then we should be welcoming to them and respect their intellectual capital. What better way to do that than asking them what they think about a myriad of issues.

I love the sense of belonging. Don’t you? Then let’s share the experience with others. Try it tomorrow. Maybe we’ll all entrench ourselves in belonging…

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