The most dreaded task

MARCH AIR RESERVE BASE, CALIF. -- I love my job. I really do. I actually look forward to coming into work each day. My co-workers are great and my boss is fantastic. But there is one thing I hate-- and I mean hate--and that is preparing the weekly 'Candid Comments' section for the back of the newspaper.

To be more specific, I dread the rejection that seems to be an inherent part of collecting 'Candid Comments.' I get knots in my stomach just thinking about approaching total strangers and saying "Hi, I'm Staff Sergeant Crusher. I work for the base newspaper and I'm doing the 'Candid Comments' section. Would you mind helping me out by answering a quick question?"

More often than not, the reply is no.

In the public affairs world, sections such as 'Candid Comments' are generically known as 'man on the street' pieces and they can be found in every base newspaper or magazine. In these pieces, the reporter picks a person at random, asks them a question, and records the unedited (candid) response.

For our base's 'Candid Comments' section, which appears on the back page of the newspaper up to four times a month, we work hard to create fun, interesting and timely questions that are easy for people to answer. Then, we find three different Team March members to respond to each question.

Don't get me wrong, I like the 'Candid Comments' end product. It's important to get readers involved in a base paper and find out what they think about issues that are in the news. More importantly, readers get a kick out of 'Candid Comments.' Some readers have even told our office 'Candid Comments' is their favorite section of the paper.

What's ironic is that even though readers enjoy 'Candid Comments' so, they themselves are often unwilling to contribute. You'd be amazed at how many people suddenly become rude when asked to contribute a response to a 'Candid Comments' question. They outright refuse me and sometimes, not very nicely.

Some people walk right past me with their palm out. Other times, they fly by me, shaking their heads. Some turn the other way as soon as they see approaching with my pen, pad and camera. Others will be friendly, but they refuse to participate nonetheless.

The real sneaky folks are the ones who claim to be allergic to photos. These people enthusiastically agree to help me and they'll give a great answer to the question of the week. But then, I pull out the camera and -- surprise -- the perfect 'Candid Comments' subject has withdrawn their response and they've bolted halfway across base to escape me.

I've even gone so far as to create set of criteria to help me find willing 'Candid Comments' participants.

I've found young men are some of the best 'Candid Comments' subjects--if I can catch them alone. If they're in a group, forget it. They'll ban together to renounce me. If they're drinking (after duty hours, of course) they really want to talk, but then I can't use the answers because they're inappropriate.

Airmen and Airmen First Class make great 'Candid Comments' subjects because, as a general rule, new Airmen are always eager to say yes. High ranking individuals are also helpful because they want to set a good example for everyone else.

The most challenging 'Candid Comments' candidates are women, due to the photo allergy phenomenon. But in their defense, women are the most kind in their rejections.

Creating this set of criteria has been somewhat of a help to me, but it didn't cure my secret phobia of collecting 'Candid Comments.' Unfortunately (or fortunately if you want to look at it in the long run), it all came to a head several months ago on a UTA weekend when I was the only one available to hunt for 'Candid Comments' responses. Even worse that weekend was that there was not one, but two week's worth of 'Candid Comments' I needed to collect.

Like we all tend to do with dreaded tasks, I put my 'Candid Comments' task off until lunchtime on the last day of the UTA and headed to the Hap Arnold Club looking for volunteers.

Walking into the club, my anxiety was at full force and I was cringing, just thinking about how annoyed people would be at me for interrupting their lunch or delaying them in getting back to work. But the 'Candid Comments' had to be done, so I pressed. on.

I first approached two young men sitting together, even though I knew it would be a mistake, according to my "don't ask men in groups" rule. Sure enough, they shot me down. The next man I asked was seated alone, but contrary to my set of criteria, he, too, shot me down.

Next, to my surprise, a thirty something technical sergeant, who, according to my profile would be a no-go, agreed to answer one of the questions. While I was excited about the unexpected success, the next two people I queried refused to participate. I didn't know what I was going to do.

But then, I heard someone call my name. It was Tech. Sgt. Angel Mendoza. He could immediately tell how upset I was and when he asked what was wrong, I told him all about my hatred for collecting 'Candid Comments.'

Sergeant Mendoza's solution: "Let's do this together."

His idea threw me for a loop. "Together!?" Just the idea of not having to do it by myself totally uplifted me.

I took mental notes of how Sergeant Mendoza's 'Candid Comments' approach was completely different than my own. He'd go up to people with a big smile (one that differed from my nervous, I'm-so-sorry-to-bother- you smile) and would ask them to do this for us and they usually would. Sergeant Mendoza's enthusiasm was infectious, even in the face of rejection. When someone would tell him, "no," he would be genuinely perplexed, and without being phased, we'd be off to the next person.

I was truly amazed at how much easier the task was with have help. Sergeant Mendoza's unexpected assistance that day reminded me of the importance of teamwork and asking for help.

It had never occurred to me to say to a co-worker, "Hey, I don't like 'Candid Comments,' can you please help me gather them?" I never considered that an option. In these days of low manning and limited funding, we're all so used to doing things on our own that we forget about the invaluable help of our co-workers.

After having a more positive experience collecting 'Candid Comments,' I find I no longer fret over the task like I used to. After all, in the big picture, 'Candid Comments' is just a small assignment. What made it so dreadful was that I let my fear of it fester until it grew out of hand.

When we allow ourselves to get caught up in our own self-created drama, it's easy for this to happen. But the important lesson here is that whatever the problem is, no matter how small, talk to someone about it. Doing that gives you perspective, plus you never know what kind of insight you'll gain.

I am grateful for Sergeant Mendoza for reminding me of the power of teamwork and not to take things too personally. I am also grateful that I've already completed my "UTA" for the month and it's going to be the "B" UTA's public affairs staff duty to collect the 'Candid Comments' this week.