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Storytellers: Words of Wisdom from Women at War

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – Col. Keith Balts, Air Force Space Command inspector general, speaks at the Storytellers event Oct. 2, 2015 and tells the story of the journal he put together for his daughter while he was deployed. The journal was a compilation of inspirational quotes, stickers, photos and letters to his daughter, encouraging her to be strong while he was away. Balts got Airmen he was deployed with to contribute, ranging from an airman to lieutenant general and a few others as well. (U.S. Air Force photo by Robb Lingley)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – Col. Keith Balts, Air Force Space Command inspector general, speaks at the Storytellers event Oct. 2, 2015 and tells the story of the journal he put together for his daughter while he was deployed. The “Words of Wisdom from Women at War” journal was a compilation of inspirational quotes, stickers, photos and letters to his daughter from deployed female Airmen, Soldiers and civilians ranging from an airman to lieutenant general and a few others as well. (U.S. Air Force photo by Robb Lingley)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – The Anyway Poem graces one of the pages of a journal Col. Keith Balts, Air Force Space Command inspector general, put together for his daughter while on a yearlong deployment. The journal had contributions from Airmen with one or two stripes up to a lieutenant general and a few others. His daughter, Rachel, even contributed to the journal, although she didn’t realize it. (Courtesy photo)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – The Anyway Poem graces one of the pages of a journal Col. Keith Balts, Air Force Space Command inspector general, put together for his daughter while on a yearlong deployment. The journal had contributions from female Airmen with one or two stripes up to a lieutenant general and a few others. (Courtesy photo)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Col. Keith W. Balts had just begun his yearlong deployment to Qatar in 2012 and was thinking of gifts he could give his family for all the sacrifices they were making while he was deployed, something more than just a souvenir or trinket. 

For his daughter, he came up with an idea to make her a journal of entries from deployed female Airmen, Soldiers and civilians to provide a feminine perspective on being in a combat zone away from their own families, i.e., "Words of Women from Women at War".

"I could bring her back some physical gifts from overseas, which I did," Balts said. "and I could Skype or call to share the experience of what it's like to be deployed, but I could not offer my daughter a female perspective."

Based off that concept, Balts thought he would pass around a journal to female Airmen to get their opinion on what life was like being deployed and what they would have wanted to hear when they were 8 years old. The journal would be a gift for his daughter when he returned home in May 2013.

After he ordered a pink camouflaged  journal, Balts asked a brigadier general he worked with to provide the first entry.  Once he read what she wrote, he thought 'I wonder if I could get every rank?' He asked senior ranking officers first and worked his way to more junior ranks so they could also read and benefit from what previous senior officers and NCOs contributed.

"Some of the 'words of wisdom' came from famous quotes, poems or other elements of popular culture.  Other contributions were more personal anecdotes or unique thoughts on leadership, life choices, character, and being deployed in austere conditions," he said.

Balts said he was able to receive contributions from every rank between E-2 and O-9. Twenty-four women wrote in the journal: 17 airmen, a foreign officer, an Army officer, a Department of State civilian, and his wife, mother, sister and daughter.

He had his family contribute to the journal in addition to the service members to give another perspective of what it's like to have a loved one deployed for a year, including capturing the thoughts of his daughter so she would remember what it was like to have her father gone for a year.

There were many common themes throughout the entries, but two stood out as enduring among most, if not all, contributions. The first one was decision making, the importance of making the right choices and the consequences of those choices, and that it's alright to make mistakes and take risks.  The second theme was to have a sense of independence and to forge your own path regardless of what others or society may try to influence or dictate.

One poem an Airman quoted, often associated with Mother Teresa, stood out amongst the others that showcased being strong and taking chances even when others don't believe it's wise:

People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies. Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you. Be honest and kind anyway.
What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, will often be forgotten. Do good anyway.
Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway.
In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.

Among the other quotes, poems, smiley faces and stickers in the margins, each one encouraged Col. Balts' daughter to be herself and be strong while her father was away. When Balts returned home and gave his daughter the journal, she said that she liked it.

At the age of 9 years old, it may have been something she didn't fully understand yet, but it's something she will be able to appreciate more and more as she gets older. Balts said he hopes someday this journal will help his daughter through other challenges she faces throughout the rest of her life.  He also shares key themes and entries with other audiences too, as so many women took the time to pass on their own personal words of wisdom.

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