Early in my Air Force career, I overheard an NCO say, “The only tradition in the Air Force is constant change.” I should clarify that he more grumbled it than said it. I remember thinking how odd of an expression that was, and how the disdain in his voice was unmistakable. I was still very “blue” of course, so I had not had any of the Air Force newness wear off yet.
It wasn’t until about a year ago that I realized the newness had worn off. It was within my first few days of Airman Leadership School where it was explained to us that we were to learn the Airman’s Creed as part of our curriculum. Before even realizing what I was doing, I found myself spouting the same words I heard from that NCO, years before. “The only tradition in the Air Force is constant change,” I mumbled to my fellow classmates. Some of them laughed, some of them agreed, but I couldn’t shake the numb feeling that crept over me.
We all learned to recite the creed, and most of us could say it on the spot. There was something missing, though; something that lacked conviction and true feeling. I have heard many people grumble about the Airman’s Creed, saying it is fabricated motivation and just one more thing the Air Force is doing to inconvenience its Airmen. People who feel overworked and underappreciated ridicule the Air Force’s “attempt” to motivate its Airmen through something as ambiguous as a few stanzas jotted down on a page. I have to confess I was one of those people, until about a month ago.
June 1 was an exciting day for me. My brother-in-law, Jonathan Savarese, was graduating Basic Military Training at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. It was the first time I had been back to Lackland since my own graduation almost six years ago. I wanted to make sure my uniform was perfect from head to toe, and that I was representing the NCO corps well. I knew the young Airmen graduating would look to me as an example of what the standard should be, and I knew I could not have one hair out of place.
The pass and review was spectacular; I had never seen anything like it before. Each Airman, so proud of their accomplishment, marched as straight and as perfect as it gets. I remembered how proud I was when I marched that same bomb run, and my eyes started to water. I held back emotion when every Airman pledged their Oath of Enlistment; their solemn promise to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. I was filled with pride to have these new Airmen as my brothers and sisters, knowing we all came from the very same place, and marched on the very same field.
The ceremony culminated with the reciting of the Airman’s Creed, which is something every new Airman is taught from their first day of BMT. I was worried the creed would come out as I have heard it so many other times – mumbled, morose and monotone. I was shocked when I heard the conviction of all the Airmen speaking in one voice, “I am an American Airman…” I wanted to join in with them halfway through their oration, and wasn’t surprised to see many other Airmen in the audience already had. The final line of the creed was not spoken; no, it was shouted in a unified voice that made the chills run up and down my spine – “AND I WILL NOT FAIL!”
I know that every Airman who comes into my keeping is still very “blue” like we all once were, and I know how important it is to grow that Airman into an exceptional NCO, despite my own prejudices. I ask all of my fellow NCOs to take a minute and reflect on your march down the bomb run. I ask each of you look at your “blue” Airmen and not snuff out the pride and excitement they have. Instead of trying to morph them into shells of their basic-trainee selves, mocking their motivation as something to be embarrassed about, can we cultivate the professionalism, pride and determination they come to us with? Can we let them remind us what it means to be an American Airman? This openness to change will ensure that we all will not fail.