When someone mentions the Air Force core values, often I hear the phrase “doing the right thing when no one is around.” But that is only one of our values. There are two others that get lost in the shadow of integrity first. Service before self and excellence in all we do are often forgotten; however, we need all of them to embody what the Air Force expects of its people.
The core values serve as pillars for our careers and within each pillar are tenets keeping them upright. Integrity first is more than just doing what is right. We must have the courage to go against the grain and make the tough decisions, which are often not popular. Additionally, we have to be willing to take the responsibility that comes with making that decision, even if it may be the wrong one. Furthermore, we need to be honest with our people – honest with the feedback we give because the ratings they get on their performance reports depend upon it.
Next is service before self. When I ask someone to describe what service before self means, they typically say “putting the Air Force’s needs ahead of my own.” Yes, the Air Force wants us to put its needs first, but there is so much more.
Rule following is an attribute of service before self and how many times do people not follow the rules? Simple things like not putting hands in pockets or tucking in the physical training uniform shirt are common. When you tell someone they’re wrong, they respond with “oh I didn’t know or when did that change.” We should have enough self-discipline to not break the rules even if we don’t agree with them.
In addition to rule following, we also need to have faith in the system. Our faith needs to be in the enlisted evaluation system, decorations, assignments and leadership. With leadership, we need to have faith everyone will be rated fair and accurately, we’ll be put up for awards and decorations when we deserve them, and be led in the right direction. Building our faith does not come easy and it takes sacrifice to get it to the level the Air Force expects.
Finally, excellence in all we do. This value would appear to be the easiest to follow. The Air Force wants us to put everything we have into everything we do. Should we really have to be told to give our best all the time? Why would anyone want to give anything less than their best? I know when I send out a product I want it to be perfect. If it is anything less than the best, people will associate me with a poor product. It baffles me why people will do the bare minimum just to get by. I have watched people stand in the fitness center and look at charts to see what they have to do to get a 75 percent on a fitness test. I am pretty sure excellence in all we do is not the minimum.
As members of the Air Force, we are expected to live by a higher standard. We must conduct ourselves in a way that will not discredit our Air Force, unit or selves.
If you truly have integrity first and service before self, excellence in all we do will follow suit. Lastly, put these core values at the front of your journey, and you will always have a light to guide your way.