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In Our Opinion — September 2012

Truly Inspiring

Military conferences usually kick off with a welcome speech by a commander who gives a brief overview of what attendees will be learning over the next few days, and how the knowledge they gain will benefit the service members and families they care for daily.

A typical welcome speech was expected during July's Armed Forces Food and Beverage Training Workshop in San Antonio, Texas, as Maj. Gen. A.J. Stewart, USAF, Air Force Personnel Center (AFPC) commander, walked to the front of the room filled with some 200 food and beverage personnel.

But this was not your usual welcome speech. Far from it. In fact, the story that the general told over the next 17 minutes not only inspired every single person in that conference room to do an even better job at his or her respective food and beverage operation, but they also drew inspiration in learning how the commander battled through a near-fatal experience, overcame the odds and stood before us that day as a better man in many aspects.

With a visible scar on the left side of his head, Stewart relayed the story of how he always tried to keep in tip-top physical shape by working out, running, riding a bike, playing golf and eating right in order to remain healthy, fit and strong.

Unfortunately, physical problems came out of nowhere last year during routine five-mile runs, as he had to keep stopping due to vertigo, mild headaches and fatigue. After visiting a neurologist and undergoing an MRI, results revealed a golfball-sized, stage-4 malignant tumor on the left temple of his brain.

Stunned by the news, Stewart needed surgery almost immediately, and five days later, had the tumor removed.

Remarkably, in a matter of weeks, Stewart felt like a new man, so much so that he went back to work and got fully back into his physical regimen. In fact, he told the enraptured food and beverage personnel that just one week after the surgery, he played 18 holes of golf with 13 staples closing the area of his left temple where the tumor had been removed.

Even more remarkable was that he had also begun aggressive radiation and chemotherapy treatments to minimize the chance that the cancer would rear its ugly head again.

Amazingly, he was able to overcome any treatment side effects, such as nausea and fatigue, by resuming going to the gym, running, bike riding and returning to his role as AFPC commander.

Thirty radiation and 42 chemotherapy treatments later, he felt great, and a subsequent MRI showed that he was cancer-free.

How did Stewart recover so quickly to the point that he could resume his full exercise regimen, right after having a malignant stage-4 growth removed from his brain? Chalk it up to what he referred to as his body's natural recovery capabilities, or what he referred to as the “amazing healing machine.”

Addressing those in attendance at the workshop, Stewart noted that a lesson he learned throughout his ordeal is that everyone should strive to be fit, strong and healthy every day. This involves proper exercise, nutrition and rest in order to take care of your body. “I'm a big fan of my body, of taking care and being fit,” he said.

He stressed the nutrition component when he talked about his plant-based diet, with an extra helping of broccoli. “Eat all the broccoli you can get your hands on. It's good for you,” Stewart said.

Stewart concluded his inspirational speech by urging those in attendance to take care of those they serve in their food and beverage facilities, as well as feed and exercise their own “amazing healing machines.” “You're way more important than I ever thought,” he said. “Thank you for the work you do day in and day out.”

Inspiring words from an inspiring man.