People often ask me what I do. That question is quite easy to answer.
“I’m an officer in the United States Air Force.”
Every once in a while someone will follow up with, “What do you do in the Air Force?” That’s another easy answer.
“I command the communications squadron at Luke Air Force Base in Phoenix, Arizona.”
However, a question recently asked of me was a bit more difficult to answer. “Why do you do what you do?”
The answer to this question is important, because it not only helps us understand our service, but gives clarity to our true goals.
My father nudged me toward a stint in the Air Force in 1989. With few prospects in the civilian sector a couple years out of high school and recently married, the Air Force seemed the most stable option for our new family.
Several years later, my father asked why I stay in the Air Force. He said, “With the skills you’ve learned, surely the money is better on the outside.”
I have to admit early on my skepticism in that opinion was probably what kept me serving. I was never convinced I could make more money “on the outside.”
But over time, I realized it wasn’t about money, but what was it about? Was it the deep pride I felt in serving my nation? Perhaps it was seeing people smile when they learned I was in the military. Or perhaps it was being part of something much bigger than me. This is when I began to reflect on why I do what I do.
In Simon Sinek’s book, “Start with Why,” he talks about understanding the Golden Circle. It consists of three rings. On the outer ring is the “What” we do. For example, we serve in the world’s most powerful Air Force. Inside that ring is the “How” we serve. We serve as cyber Airmen, maintenance Airmen, operations Airmen, etc. At the center of the circle is the “Why.” The why is what inspires us to excel. The why runs at our very core and drives us to come in each day and individually give our best to our nation.
In the Air Force, one why is our wingmen. Airmen are driven by allegiance to each other. We depend on each other for food, security and support. It’s a form of camaraderie hard to find anywhere else. Our Chief of Staff of the Air Force, Gen. Mark Welsh, said that our nation gives us its national treasures, its sons and daughters, husbands and wives, mothers and fathers to do its business. At Luke, we call on our why to train the best fighter pilots and crew chiefs to support the mission downrange and to always be ready to answer the call. For every Airman, we serve because somewhere, someone is depending on us.
Understand your why. Let it be what drives you to excellence every day. It will offer you clarity and unending motivation to never let that someone down.