KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. – In October, I had the pleasure of hosting several enlisted calls for our uniformed Airmen. In those discussions, we reviewed Air Force standards of conduct and professionalism. However, standards are not for enlisted Airmen alone; our professional standards are Air Force centric and apply to every member of our workforce, uniformed and civilian.
As our service continues to get smaller, it is imperative that our Air Force be of the highest quality and peopled with the highest caliber of character. In October, we referenced Air Force Instruction 1-1, and while the words may have changed, the principles have not been lost over the passing of time.
Our core values are as relevant today as they have ever been. Our nation’s Air Force is founded on a rich tradition of professional service and our standards of conduct remain unchanged: Integrity First, Excellence in All We Do, and Service Before Self. These words are as vital to our mission success as they were to our creation more than 66 years ago.
Air Force Instruction 1-1 is titled “Air Force Culture, Air Force Standards.” It is no mistake that our culture is closely tied to our standards of conduct. We are proud of our high standards. They are not to be compromised. In this age of shrinking military forces and shrinking federal budgets, professional standards are non-negotiable.
Our “Little Blue Book-United States Air Force Core Values,” spells it out in detail. “Integrity is a character trait, the willingness to do what is right, even when no one is looking.” How profound. How absolutely vital to mission success! This is a shared value, an expectation of standard conduct. We should expect each and every member – uniformed, civilian, and contractor — to do what is right, especially when no one is looking.
Acting professionally and appropriately takes courage, honesty, responsibility, accountability, justice, openness, self-respect, respect for others and humility. Regardless of your occupation or mission, we simply cannot do business any other way.
I have heard arguments that our service is antiquated, outdated and needs to get with the times. While I fully support modernizing our Air Force, this does not include going the way of a casual corporate America. Modernizing means getting smart and getting training. Modernizing is getting fit and being fit to fight. Modernizing is acquisition excellence and improving current systems. Modernizing is not personal disrespect, calling each other by our first names, or relaxed dress and appearance.
We have standards of conduct that instill a professional work environment and support our policy of Excellence in All We Do. When we relax standards we lose our identity as the world’s premier Air Force. There is one beat; we must all march to the same drum. Force shaping is no time to have a smaller, less professional force of individuals doing any old thing they want to do. Force shaping means we must retain highly professional, technical experts who stand together, shoulder to shoulder, and march to the same beat.
Excellence must be the standard operating procedure for every line of work we are in. Customer service cannot suffer at any level. We are all intertwined and tightly connected. The maintenance mechanic cannot turn their wrench if they are not medically cared for, the medic cannot care for the mechanic if their Common Access Card does not work, the personnelist cannot process CACs if they are not housed safely, and the list goes on. Each of us is completely dependent on the other to make this Air Force operate and we cannot settle for merely being open for business. We must be fully present and accountable providing outstanding service to one another every step of the way. We must be excellent!
Our professional standards are uniformly applicable to the entire Air Force. While we employ different people in various ways, one thing that does not change with your suit of clothes is our standards of professionalism. Every “Big A” Airman should be striving to create a positive, helpful, respectful environment in which we as a team thrive.
Professional standards apply to all of us. Your chain of command expects you to adhere to them and uphold them — in every career field, at every rank, civilian or military. The world’s premier air and space force requires the world’s premier professionals in every position.
Only through “Service Before Self” can we attain excellence. Each person must put the needs of the mission before their individual wants. You must be willing to come to the fight with everything you’ve got and lay it all down for the team, for the mission. We can’t be a team unless we are united, and that means treating each other with respect, courtesy and professionalism. Build trust in your work centers by valuing what each person brings to the mission. Get to know each other and take care of one another. There will be times when you pull more than your fair share, and there will be times when you need help to carry your load. The productive team understands this, and they understand the mission. They know that each member has a unique experience and skill-set that adds value and accomplishment to the total force. They seek understanding and they work well together. Successful teams communicate and they do so with respect.
We are the world’s premier Air Force, but we did not get there on the backs of individuals. We got there through the efforts of professionals. We have standards that are higher than other occupations, but we are also a unique force with awesome responsibility. We fly, fight and win, in air, space and cyberspace. We cannot afford to lower our standards and nor should we allow it.
As we look into a year with further force reductions, I implore you to do a self-assessment and make sure you are leading by example. Stand tall, wear the uniform correctly and make sure you are upholding the core values. Contribute to the professional force to which you so proudly belong. We need each and every one of you to accomplish our mission of delivering nuclear capabilities and winning solutions to our warfighters. This is a profession of arms that must always be accomplished through adherence to the Air Force’s professional standards.