68: By the Dawn’s Early Light

68: By the Dawn’s Early Light

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Empowered Woman

By the Dawn’s Early Light

If you have to do it, then you’re doing the right thing.

~Kathy Valentine

“The colonel needs to see you,” my flight commander said as I set my olive-green backpack down on my desk. It was a few minutes shy of 7:00 a.m., and a direct request from the boss usually meant one of two things: I was being promoted, or I had seriously messed up.

As far as I knew, I was definitely not due for a promotion. A bolt of panic shot down my spine, and it clearly showed on my face.

“Relax, lieutenant. I think she just needs you to run an errand for the promotion ceremony happening later this week,” he said.

“Oh! Phew,” I said, feeling my pulse return to normal as my shoulders inched away from my ears. And sure enough, when I reported to the colonel’s office, she confirmed the request.

My orders were simple. Go down to the print shop, pick up flyers for the promotion ceremony, proofread them, and if everything looked okay, bring them back to her office.

As I drove to the printer, I couldn’t shake a nagging feeling that something seemed off about this request.

“I’m one of our unit’s technical writers. Of course, it makes sense that the boss needs a writer to proofread,” I tried telling myself.

But for some reason, I couldn’t quite shake a sense of foreboding washing over me.

At first, everything went according to plan. The flyers had indeed been printed, the front cover was in brilliant color, and there were two packed boxes — an indication the order seemed to be correct.

Then I opened a flyer to read it. As I scanned the text, my stomach dropped into my shoes.

The sequence of events was accurate, the distinguished guest list was thorough and complete, and the ranks and names of promotees were all correct.

There was just one problem: A live singer had been listed to perform the National Anthem. I knew her personally. She couldn’t carry a tune if her life depended on it.

In a military promotion ceremony, immediately after the official party arrives in place, the event always begins with a rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Depending on the circumstances and rank of the person promoting, the anthem might be performed via a full brass and percussion band. Sometimes it’s a live singer. And sometimes it’s a pre-recorded instrumental version piped in over speakers.

The fact that a live singer was listed on the program wasn’t the problem.

But I had been listed as the performer.

My first thought was there must be a mistake. Surely someone had, very incorrectly, given my Squadron Commander bad intelligence and told her that I could sing. This cannot be happening, I thought as I drove back to the office.

The boxes of flyers felt as if they weighed a hundred pounds as I lugged them up two flights of stairs and back to my commander’s office. I peeked in the door, and she beamed and waved me in eagerly. Setting the boxes down did not alleviate the heavy weight that had fallen across my shoulders. I wasn’t even sure where to begin.

“Everything look okay?” she chirped.

“Well, I… I did see one error,” I started hesitantly. “Ma’am, did someone volunteer me to sing?”

I was one of just three women in my unit, and although we loved to play pranks on each other and had become as close as sisters, neither of them would have done something like this.

“Oh, don’t be silly,” she said. “Of course not. You’re a woman, aren’t you?”

When I signed on the dotted line to join the service, I had long ago braced myself for the fight and insinuations that I knew one day would surely come. Someone, at some point in my military career, would label me as “less” — less of a fighter, less of a warrior, less of a leader — simply because I was a woman.

But in all of the ways I had anticipated to fight sexism in the military, being on the receiving end of it from a woman floored me.

“Don’t let fear get in the way,” she chastised. “All women can sing. It’s just mind over matter.”

I fought to keep my jaw off the floor. I couldn’t believe she had actually said that with a straight face! I stood frozen to the spot, too dumbfounded to move.

She offered a final, smug smile before turning back to her computer and clacking away at the keyboard.

I knew what I was supposed to do — what I was “expected” to do. Protocol told me I should have saluted smartly, turned on my heel, exited her office, and prepared to sing in just two short days.

Standing there, I pictured in my mind how the ceremony would unfold. The official party would file in. The snare drumroll would silence the crowd. And somewhere, behind a microphone stand, would lie my catatonic body, passed out from paralytic fear and shock.

In that moment, I did the only thing I could think of; I took a deep breath, locked my eyes on the floor and began to sing in my boss’s office.

I made it all the way to “whose broad stripes and bright stars” before she stopped me. A look of sheer horror clouded her face as she realized I wasn’t pretending. Had I attempted to hit the vocal scale needed for “the rocket’s red glare,” both the bombs and every window in the building would’ve been bursting in air.

Stunned, she mumbled that she would find someone else, and I was dismissed. I couldn’t leave her office fast enough.

I learned two powerful lessons that day.

Admittedly, it does sound clichéd, but the saying to “trust your gut” could not be more sound advice. Our bodies can sense and pick up things that may not have yet registered in our mind, or even pick up on things that have not yet come to pass. My body immediately knew that something was wrong. Something, somewhere could sense that I had not been given the full story — and that instinct was spot-on.

And I realized in that moment that doing something simply because someone else thought I should was not fair to my own soul and spirit.

Now, whenever I have doubts or have a difficult day, I think back on that moment when I swallowed all pride and stood up for myself — in what very well could be one of the most humiliating ways imaginable. I was slowly appreciating my talents and skill sets, and I knew singing was not one of them.

The promotion ceremony went off without a hitch, although there was an emergency re-print of flyers to remove my name from the program.

I’ve heard the National Anthem many times since then. I can’t help but feel a surge of pride remembering the day I had the confidence to stand up for myself and do a lousy job singing it.

~Kristi Adams

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