The Air Force core values of integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all we do provide excellent guideposts on how to conduct our professional military lives.
Because they are so closely associated with the Air Force, their application often stops there. In actuality, they are great guides for our personal lives as well.
This perceived limitation was highlighted to me a few weeks ago when I had the honor and privilege to address the Julius A. Kolb Airman Leadership School Class 12-F. During the discussion I used a quote from Abraham Lincoln, “Whatever you are, be a good one.”
The majority of those in the room were not only airmen, but leaders of airmen. My point was to challenge the recent graduates, who are now leaders of airmen, to be good ones. The message was not unique; in fact it is encapsulated in our core value of excellence in all we do.
Afterward, I was approached by airmen, civilians and retirees who said they really liked the “whatever you are, be a good one” part of the talk. In particular, one Airman who had recently separated from the Air Force was worried about how she would adjust to being a full-time mother.
She said Lincoln’s quote inspired her to be a better mom. Whereas before she was driven to be the best airman she could be, now she would redirect that energy at being the best mother she could be.
The theme of excellence was obviously not new to her, but by discussing it in its earlier form by Lincoln, the message actually resonated with a larger audience.
While the opportunity to bring Lincoln’s words to the audience was rewarding, it highlighted to me that the core values concepts have become so closely associated with the Air Force that somehow people perceive them as a “military thing” when their usefulness is much wider.
So, if you’re an airman, I encourage you to continue to live and internalize the core values. If you’re a retiree, a spouse or a civilian, I encourage you to do the same, but if Lincoln’s words have more resonance, then use them instead.
Whatever you are, be a good one!