May 25, 2012

The ‘ABCs’ of core values

by Col. Michael Burke
Peterson AFB, Colo.

My focus for this commentary is on our Air Force Core Values.

Sure, I know, there have been hundreds if not thousands of such reviews and commentaries on this topic. But I think you’ll find this to be a somewhat different approach, so please indulge me and give it a read.

The Air Force formally unveiled its current core values in 1995. Since then, “Integrity First, Service Before Self and Excellence in All We Do” has become the foundation of our daily lives, the set points of our moral barometers and the charge by which we all align and aspire to achieve our very best.

These core values were released early in my career, some 17 years ago. Like many of you, I “grew up” in the Air Force with them – they were ingrained in me by my supervisors. I was taught to rote memorize them, to recite them, to live by them without questioning the indisputable standard they represented, and along the way, I was taught to view them as absolutes.

Five years ago, I met a new mentor and friend, Col. Alan Berg, who opened my eyes to a different perspective of the core values – one completely different than I’d heard to that point in my career. He first shared his views during my initial feedback with him – he was the U.S. Air Force Academy Hospital commander, I was one of his new fledgling medical squadron commanders. Here’s my adaptation and philosophy of the ‘model’ The ABCs of the Core Values, he imparted.

A – Integrity: Integrity is the A-bsolute. This one is simple. In one way or another, we all accepted the privilege to serve the American people and undertook the vital duty to defend our nation and its way of life – a no-fail mission for sure. As such, integrity is the cornerstone for our actions. Our unwavering integrity is the glue that bonds us as comrades in the Profession of Arms, which engenders trust and ultimately drives us to base our actions on our convictions and not on circumstance or social pressures. Integrity is a fundamental – there is no place in our profession for a breach in it.

B – Service Before Self: Must be Tethered to B-alance. As a young airman, I was raised to live by the mantra, “the needs of the Air Force.” Basically, I was taught to predict, go and do what the Air Force needed me to do. This drone-like approach doesn’t help anyone let-alone the service. Balance is absolutely critical to mission success. We all need to come up for air regularly to ensure we have the energy to perform when in the saddle. Proper balance entails taking care of ourselves so that we are healthy, enriched and energized to execute our missions and lead with vigor and innovation. So yes, I am promoting a healthy degree of self/inward focus for the greater good of our mission.

C – Excellence in All We Do: Approach Excellence as a C-hallenge! Only a few by definition will ever reach excellence. Nor can any of us truly attain a 110 percent effort 100 percent of the time. I’m really not sure about the calculus behind that computation anyhow! Many times, the 80 percent solution will work just fine and will enable us to preserve energies for those efforts where excellence is imperative. The bottom line with excellence: we should all close-in on “Excellence in All We Do” as a challenge yet with care to not zap our energies on the inconsequential, thereby fatiguing us when we’ll need to bring it on full-bore.

Our Air Force Core Values have been and will continue to be instrumental in keeping our Air Force atop the perch as the best in the world. My goal in sharing the above philosophy was in no way meant to dilute their impact, but rather to share a different, pragmatic perspective in their enduring application.

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