General feels sense of 'mission'

As the No. 2 man in the chain of command for the Air Force Reserve, Maj. Gen. Alan G. Sharp easily could represent an authoritative figure whom staff and enlisted personnel approach with the kind of "military respect" that borders on fear.

That is not the case, however. Those who meet Gen. Sharp, 61, vice commander of the Air Force Reserve which is headquartered at Robins AFB, quickly discover the two stars on his uniform do not outshine a friendly, good-humored nature.Since 1986, Gen. Sharp has overseen the worldwide, day-to-day operations of more than 500 flying and support units and some 70,000 Air Force reservists, active duty military and civilian personnel.

And while most who meet the general never hear him speak of his Church membership - especially within the office of his command - they see in him an example of a man deeply committed to his religious beliefs.

Gen. Sharp and his wife, Gloria Steffensen Sharp, are members of the Warner Robins 1st Ward, Macon Georgia Stake. They both grew up in active LDS families, met while attending the University of Utah and married in 1951.

One who has observed Gen. Sharp's commitment to gospel ideals is Col. Virgil Batten (Ret.), who served under him for seven years. The first three years were at Dobbins AFB at Marietta, Ga., and the last four as his chief of staff at Robins AFB.

"I had no interface with Gen. Sharp from the religious standpoint," said Col. Batten in a telephone interview from his home in North Carolina. "Because my faith is different than his, we never discussed religion, but there is no question that day in and day out, whether at home, traveling in the continental United States or overseas, I never saw him do anything that would reflect anything except the truest integrity and solid values.

"For example, because of the level of responsibility we had, we were often required to attend functions where alcohol was served. Gen. Sharp would never take a glass of punch, or even water, at those functions. There were times I offered to get him apple juice or something else, but he always refused. He simply couldn't accept being seen with a glass in his hand at a cocktail party."

During an interview in their home, Sister Sharp said from time to time, her husband is called upon to lead the toast at a dinner party. "He always does it with water," she said. "Alan has always felt it's important for members of the Church to let their example shine.

"He was commander of the 514th Military Airlift Wing at McGuire AFB (N.J.) from 1977-1981. When he was transferred from McGuire, a farewell party was held for him. All the people stood, picked up their glasses of water, and toasted to him. It was really quite a touching and thoughtful thing to see.

"We feel like his whole military career has been directed by the Lord. It's been like being on a mission. Although he hasn't used his office to preach, we both have had many opportunities to represent the Church."

She described one occasion that made a lasting impression on his fellow officers: "When he was at McGuire, he and two other commanders were discussing a personnel problem. They met with Alan for two hours in his office, trying to resolve the problem about an individual.

"Afterward, one of the commanders told me that they were about ready to leave when Alan reached into his briefcase and brought out an old beat up book. He read from it: ` . . . influence . . . only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile - Reproving betimes with sharpness . . . then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy.'

"The two commanders left Alan's office and went out in the hall. They stopped and looked at each other. One asked, Did you feel that?' The other said,Yes, I felt it.'

"When we left McGuire, a plaque was presented to Alan in front of hundreds of people. On the plaque was inscribed those verses from D&C 121:41-43. Inscribed beneath the verses were the words: `To express the love of the 960 members of the 514th MAV, Resource Management.' "

On another occasion, Gen. Sharp was presented the Order of the Sword, the top honor presented by enlisted personnel to a commander. "This is a very special award," related Sister Sharp. "It's one of the most personalized honors an officer can receive. The enlisted personnel wanted to give a gift that reflected their love and admiration and something that would have some personal meaning to Alan. They finally decided to give him a beautiful plate with paintings of African animals.

"This was a fitting gift because it was their way of recognizing his full-time mission to South Africa. He first went there with his parents when his father (June Bennion Sharp) was called as mission president. While there, Alan was called to serve a full-time mission.

"At the banquet where that award was presented, the chaplain, who is not LDS, read a scripture from the Book of Mormon."

Gen. Sharp said he has always tried to "be a responsible member" of the Church because he knows the power of an example.

"There have been a number of occasions on which people have learned I'm LDS and have commented about another Church member," he said. "One occasion was at a social affair. An officer said, `You have my deepest respect and admiration.' He cited an example of a young lieutenant he had in his company.

"They were in the field when the officer heard someone speaking fluent Japanese on the telephone. He turned around and saw this lieutenant, a young man he already admired. He learned the young man was a returned missionary.

"Another occasion was at a staff meeting breakfast in Atlanta. An officer said, "I understand you are LDS.' He then mentioned a mutual acquaintance, an individual who was with the National Guard.

"People notice the way you live. They observe the high standards of Church members, and they expect the rest of us to be that way. Sometimes I think people would be disappointed if we didn't measure up to those standards. It's important for all of us to live the gospel of Jesus Christ."

Gen. Sharp is scheduled to retire in December, bringing a 32-year career to an honorable end.

He is a command pilot with more than 8,000 flying hours. Sister Sharp said he has received many military decorations and awards. "But," she added, "the gospel has meant more to us than any position or rank possibly could. We hope to be worthy examples to our brothers and sisters everywhere."

When asked to cite some highlights of his years in the military, Gen. Sharp spoke of his assignment as commander of the 94th Tactical Airlift Wing at Dobbins AFB in Marietta, Ga. While there, he said, he served on the committee for the open house of the Atlanta Georgia Temple. "I got to schedule all the tours," he said. "That was a thrilling experience."

After he retires, he and his wife plan to live in Marietta. Serving in the temple and spending some time with their family are among their immediate goals. They are parents of two sons and two daughters, and have eight grandchildren.

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