By Norris Burkes Feb 14 2020
“Mission First” was the Air Force mantra during my beginning years of military service.
So it seemed fitting that during my first Valentine’s Day on active duty in 1995, our chapel staff was tasked with an essential morale mission – Operation Cookie Craze. The plan called for our chapel parishioners to bake cookies that our six-person staff would deliver the love to every office on our small base.
Chaplains gave congregants careful instructions to bring cookies to the chapel office on Valentine’s Day. Our super-efficient office manager, Janet issued strict guidelines that baked goods must arrive prior to 10 a.m. on Friday.
Mission day revealed Janet’s true logistic genius. She sorted the cookies by their destinations: dishes of brownies to the flight line and plates of peanut-butter delights to the clinic.
Janet directed me to visit the guard gates, the headquarters building and even the small Army contingent on our air base. Most of the goodies found their intended targets, but a few landed in my personal collection. Hey, wasn’t I an “troop” too?
I was the last chaplain to return to the office. Soon we were regaling Janet and the senior chaplain with stories of smiling sergeants and happy airmen. “Mission accomplished!” I announced. “Defending Democracy with Snicker Doodles.”
With that, our boss returned to his office, leaving us to engage in holiday banter.
A few minutes later, a woman and her daughter came gliding down our newly carpeted hallway, carrying plates of cookies – let’s call them “Mrs. Fields and her daughter Mary.”
We welcomed them into our office, but Janet quickly asked them, “What this?”
“Cookies for the Airmen,” the woman proudly announced.
“Oh, it’s too late for that. Mission deadline was 10.”
The two bakers looked at each other.
“But we spent the morning baking them,” little Mary muttered.
“Can’t you still find a place for them?” her mother asked.
“I’m afraid not,” Janet said. “I’m sorry, but you missed our deadline.”
The dejected duo left quietly, looking much like they were going to “toss their cookies.”
Janet took a breath, allowing the pair to gain some distance before she proceeded to educate her chaplains.
“These people!” she called them. “Can’t they read? Don’t they know deadlines are deadlines?”
She complained for several minutes, asking “What did they expect me to do with their late cookies?”
Suddenly we were all silenced with the stealthy reappearance of the woman at our open office door. She’d returned to retrieve a forgotten coat, but she exited quickly leaving us to wonder whether she’d heard Janet’s raving.
We didn’t wonder long. Mrs. Fields was a squadron commander’s wife and a few minutes later our boss’s phone rang.
If you know the military, you know how these things grow exponentially. Soon, our base commander made a house call.
With military bearing, Janet called the office to attention at his arrival.
“There are two places on base where I expect exceptional customer service – the clinic and this chapel,” he roared.
After he departed, our senior chaplain added to the commander’s point by asserting we had “robbed the woman of her blessing when we rejected her work. Had we simply accepted the platter with a simple thanks, we would have all been blessed.”
Our staff learned a valuable lesson that day – our people were our mission. It’s an idea that should have been familiar from the teachings of our “spiritual commander” centuries before when he said, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”
Oh, and you might be interested to know that eventually the Air Force would learn something too. Two more words were added to their mantra – “Mission First – People Always.”
Contact Chaplain Norris at [email protected] or 10566 Combie Rd. Suite 6643 Auburn, CA 95602 or voicemail (843) 608-9715.