OXON HILL, Md. – When I think about being a good Airman first, there are two quotes that have framed my focus.
The first came from Chief Master Sgt. A.C. Smith, the command chief master sergeant for the 388th Fighter Wing at Hill Air Force Base, Utah. It was part of his address to the Team Hill 5/6 Association; I was attending as president of Hill’s Top 3. He said:
“I was 19 years old when I got into the Air Force … I was 32 when the Air Force got into me.”
I heard the other quote while attending a senior NCO induction seminar at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas. We were being addressed by the commander’s panel, and one of the members urged us:
“Be visible in uniform with your stripes, be it on the flight line or on base at the commissary … be visible.”
These two senior leaders spoke to committing more to the Air Force than just your technical expertise, which should be a given.
“Be a Great Airman First” as a slogan encompasses enlisted development institutional competencies, specifically the personal competency of Embodies Airman Culture. There are sub competencies to Embodies Airman Culture which you can read in the Professional Development Guide or at the LeMay Center for Doctrine Development and Education website at http://www.au.af.mil/au/lemay/main.htm.
The point is that although vital to force multiplication, simply recruiting is not enough. Being a great Airman requires ethical leadership that promotes the Air Force core values both within and outside your unit.
It requires building Warrior Ethos by honing skills to support employment of military capabilities; skills that stagnate when we simply focus on tasks in our job description. It also requires Self Development that continually increases breadth and depth of knowledge and skill.
What does all this mean? In my perspective we tend to compartmentalize in recruiting much more than traditional Air Force Specialty Codes. You’ve no doubt heard the old saying that when you ask a USMC member what they do, their response is “I’m a Marine,” or “Sailor” or “Soldier” for the other services.
However, ask an Air Force member what they do and you might hear, “I am a heavy equipment operations technician.” While this pride in specialty is admirable, overall growth comes from service pride.
Identify with the institution! Step out of your comfort zone and into leadership, mentorship and warrior ethos that build opportunities consistently and deliberately. The good news is the opportunities are endless. Educational institutions (professional and personal), professional organizations (Top 3, Toastmasters, VFW), shadow programs, community, etc. – you can’t go wrong as long as you are committed and passionate in your selection.
As most readers are not 19, I’ll ask:
“What age will you be when the Air Force gets in you?”