Donnie Becker has a magnet on his refrigerator that reads, “Character is what you do when no one is looking.” That just might sum up Donnie’s philosophy for living a life of integrity. Fiercely loyal, this retired United States Air Force Master Sergeant spends endless amounts of time and energy finding ways to help people, especially veterans in our community.
The Air Force
When it was time to serve in the military, the Air Force was a natural fit for Donnie. His dad had served in the Air Force and there was never a question that this branch of service was where he belonged. “When I was a kid, I would walk around the house in my dad’s uniform. I kept that picture in my head until I had a uniform of my own.”
“I was an Avionics guy, but my main job was to help our young recruits figure out how to be effective in the military and avoid being crushed by the weight of the responsibility. I’d help these young people figure out the problem and solve it. This is same reason why I went into teaching later in life. I believe that kids need structure.”
Donnie says he discovered the real meaning of honor in the military. “Honor to me means having each other’s back and not just when it is convenient to do so. If we say we are going to do it – we do it, even when it is hard.”
Now retired from the Air Force, Donnie is very active in the Green Township VFW Post 10380. This group of veterans immerses themselves in many local causes such as veteran ceremonies; flag retirement, Memorial Day parades, and so much more. “We try to find ways to help our fellow veterans in the community in any way we can.” And they do it all as volunteers.
Battling PTSD with mustangs
Sadly, 22 veterans commit suicide every day as a result of a lost battle with PTSD. Donnie and his fellow veterans recognize the need to help their brothers find a way to combat this devastating statistic. To that end, they threw their support to a non-profit organization, Mustang Journey comprised of a group of dedicated volunteers whose mission it is to treat veterans with PTSD at no cost to the veterans. “We are just starting, but we have a site and we have a horse and a 503C. Our immediate goal is to raise money to support this mission, and our long-term goal is 50 mustangs treating 500 veterans on multiple sites within the region in the next 10 years.
Donnie had a stellar Air Force career, but there came a time when he was ready to move on to something else. At 40, he entered college at Miami University and aimed at preparing himself to teach high school students. He readily admits that this turned out to be one of the best decisions of his life. “I taught English in high school, but my real purpose was to teach character.”
The amount of stress that high school kids are under is overwhelming, and school is only a small part of that. A student’s world is fraught with teenage complexities and judgement about anything that is different about them. “I don’t know how they handle it as well as they do, and I was determined to provide a safe space to go where they were not going to be superficially judged. I was particularly good at finding strengths in kids when they did not see it in themselves. Removing the judgement barrier helped them realize a better version of themselves.” Sometimes, we all just need to be validated.
Donnie still lives by the rule he developed for his students’ safe space: “Never write someone else’s story before they write it themselves . . . meaning do not judge by first impressions or appearances, but rather by the character someone displays and the integrity they show in keeping their word.” Sound advice.
Just for fun
Q: On top of everything else, you are an instructor for motorcycle safety. How do you do it all?
A: I am a Motorcycle Safety Program Supervisor for Great Oaks and have taught motorcycle safety for the past 35 years. I also substitute teach at Great Oaks when needed. I know it is a lot but I choose to help wherever I can.
Q: It sounds like you had a good foundation to be successful in the military.
A: That is because my mom always had high expectations of me. I was the oldest boy and she would not tolerate failure, especially from me.
Q: How would those close to you describe you? What would they say about you?
A: Donnie is a 500 lb. gorilla, meaning it is hard to ignore me. They would also say I am extremely loyal. If we are friends, I will defend you to the end. And I am brutally honest.
Q: Tell me some of your favorite things about our city.
A: When I left Cincinnati, I was shocked and dismayed that there were not Skyline restaurants everywhere. After a while without it, I bought the Cincinnati chili experimented with it when we were overseas in Holland. It brought Cincinnati to the Netherlands and my Dutch friends loved it. Skyline was my first stop whenever I was home on leave and it was the last stop when I had to return to my duty station.
Q: What is your favorite restaurant in Cincinnati?
A: Oddly enough not Skyline. It’s Riverwatch in Lawrenceburg.
Q: Who is the most interesting person you’ve met here in your community?
A: One of my biggest complaints outside of the military is lack of competence in many leaders in business, education, etc. In the military, we studiedleadership and we had mentors. We learned skillsets to learn how to motivate people. I want to be inspired. Everybody does, don’t you think? Inspiration seems to be lacking in many leaders today. That said, one clear exception is Jeff Brandt, former principal at OHHS and current superintendent of Oak Hills School District. He has tremendous people skills.
Q: If you could travel anywhere in the world right now where would it be, and why?
A: Ireland. A while ago I did the 23 & Me thing and found out that there was a lot of Celtic in me. I can’t say I am surprised by this. I have always felt an attraction to the Celtic life. I even have a kilt.
Q: What advice would you give a crowd of people?
A: Freedom isn’t free. Thank a veteran.
Q: What is something on your bucket list?
A: I want to have a legacy of doing good works and making a positive difference in peoples’ lives.
Q: What is your favorite music? What 3 bands, living or dead, would you like to see?
A: 70’s music is the best! Steely Dan, Chicago, America.
Q: What person, living or passed, would you like to have lunch with? Why?
A: My mom. I would love to take her out for lunch and a margarita one more time. Tell her a joke. Mom would always say, “you’re going to be alright son – you are strong just like I am.” I don’t think we ever outgrow the need to be validated like that.
Q: What is something interesting that most people don’t know about you?
A: I am an introvert
Q: What 3 words or phrases come to mind when you think of the word HOME?
A: Sanctuary, Gathering Place, Historical record of my life, filled with art and artifacts of my life’s journey so far.
Q: What do you do for you?
A: I work hard to maintain and grow connections to people who I respect and care about. When I’m home, I ride my BMW motorcycle, and sometimes I just watch the corn grow.
Donnie continues to find ways to make the world better, even if it is just one person at a time. He has an all-in attitude for continuing to serve in his community and he does it because he sees a need and he has a beautiful sense of duty. “I do not want a spotlight, I do not want credit – I just want to do the right thing.”