YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan -- A five-year-old boy was at a hospital with his family. He saw his mother talking to this lady at a desk. They’re filling out papers. Mom comes over and says, ‘You have to stay here because you’re not well.’ The little boy didn’t feel ill. He didn’t feel sick at all.
“We have to leave you here,” the mom says. The boy’s mother starts to walk away with his father and brother. He runs after them, but a nurse grabs him and holds him back.
He breaks away and runs again, only to get close enough to hear his mom turn to his brother and say, “Don’t turn around. He has to stay here.” The nurse grabs the little boy again and whisks him away to six months of chemotherapy.
Retired Chief Master Sgt. Anthony Brinkley survived his chemotherapy and went on to serve 28 years in the United States Air Force, serving twelve years as a first sergeant.
Now, Brinkley serves the general public as a motivational speaker and leadership counselor, spending a lot of his time working with agencies like the NFL and military institutions.
Which is why, on February 7 and 8, 2019, Brinkley was invited to lead the Yokota Leadership Summit where he would speak over multiple occasions to provide guidance, perspective, and life advice to Yokota service members.
“I care about our airmen, that's why we have these seminars,” said Col. Otis C. Jones, 374th Airlift Wing commander. “I care about them for what they’re wearing on their shoulders or sleeves, but more importantly, I care about the person inside.
“We’re going to develop each and every one of you to the point where we can be better when we leave here than when we came.”
For 90 minutes, Brinkley shared stories from his childhood, his time in the military, and his time outside the military to get laughs and pensive expressions in equal number as he intentionally lightened the mood before hammering a somber point home over and over again.
“You get up every day and put on a mask,” Brinkley said. “You fake who you are and at the end of the day, you go limping home. Some of you are present, but not accounted for. I want you to be present in your own lives. If you feel bad, I want you to feel bad to the point that you do something about it.”
Without letting the mood drop too hard, he hit the crowd with some comedy.
Before long, the atmosphere in the room lost that awkward tensity many may associate with large military gatherings and speeches. The crowd began to accept him, and consequently, his message.
“How many of y’all are going to do something different because of today?” Brinkley asked the packed theater. Nearly every hand went up.
“Turn around, colonel,” Brinkley said. “These are your people.”