July 27, 2012

Strengthening our core

by Col. Jim Dryjanski
National War College

WASHINGTON D.C. — The greatest threat to the United States Air Force right now is not external, but from within. The allegations of sexual misconduct at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, splashed across the news will undoubtedly be fully investigated and criminal behavior will be prosecuted appropriately.

The victims will be heard and they will be cared for, but the bell cannot be unrung. The reverberations from “Jerry Springer-esque” moral failure can shake public trust.

Senior leaders of our Air Force and the Department of Defense will look deeply, far beyond the current trial, to see if there are any institutional root causes in climate, leadership, training and oversight that need to be addressed.

We can expect some necessary actions to be taken, but will disciplinary action or the implementation of recommendations from various independent top-down strategic reviews be sufficient? Probably not, if we as Airmen don’t recognize the moral battle being waged or fail to act from the grassroots-level to strengthen our core. The stakes are incredibly high — so should be our attention and urgency.

Lackland AFB is known as the “Gateway to the Air Force.” Every enlisted trainee must pass through this training crucible in order to earn the title of “Airman.” The center of our identity as Airmen is found in our core values: Integrity first, Service before self, and Excellence in all we do. Every Airmen can spout these core values…Integrity, Service, Excellence are easy to remember and easy to say, just as former Chief of Staff of the Air Force, General Fogleman designed them. So what’s the problem?

The words Integrity, Service, and Excellence are ubiquitous in our Air Force. Like the sound of a dripping faucet, they can fade into the background over time. They are on PowerPoint slides, on wall-hangings in various offices, and they are all over the social media outlets of our service. But, are they only words; only words to be recited in speeches by commanders and enlisted leaders; only words to be cited by those very same leaders when an Airmen breaks a rule or regulation?

Yes, they are … if we let them be. If we lose sight of the moral truth that our core values are grounded in, these mere words of integrity, service, and excellence lose their true meaning and true power.

Sunshine is often the best antiseptic. Increasing transparency of our training and strengthening the accountability of our instructors at Basic Military Training in this light will help. But, more broadly, all Airmen in our Air Force should use this opportunity to illuminate why our Core Values are much more than mere words.

Let’s be clear about one thing, the vast majority of our Airmen — like their joint brothers- and sisters-in-arms, are honorably serving our nation at a very critical time in our history. They are among the very best our nation has to offer, and they are making the extraordinary look ordinary around the globe every single day. That said, no Airman is exempt from the temptation in life to do the easier wrong, rather than the harder right. We must be prepared to win this battle every single day.

It is up to Airmen — wingmen, leaders, warriors to calibrate our moral compasses to true north and give life back to our Core Values where the rubber meets the road during our toughest times. Lou Holtz, former head football coach at Notre Dame, had a great way of boiling complex ideas down to their essence. He has said there are three questions people have when they meet you.
Can I trust you? Do you care about me?  Are you committed to excellence?

If “yes” is the answer to those questions, people want you on their team. How do you get to “yes?” Holtz has three rules to live by.
Do the right thing. Care about people. Do your best.

Simple and profound rules to live by and strengthen our core and our team: Integrity first, Service before self, and Excellence in all we do.

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