NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. — “Airman Ellis, what steps does Technical Order 00-25-172 require you to take in this situation?”
This question was posed to me 27 years ago by a higher headquarters inspector general team member during a short-notice inspection by one of the most intense, disciplined, standards driven organizations in our Air Force’s history… Strategic Air Command.
As a young petroleum, oil and lubricant troop, I had heard many stories about these feared and revered Airmen, especially the Master Sergeant who shadowed me for what seemed like hours.
From the time I arrived to my first duty station, Ellsworth AFB, S.D., in 1985 as an Airman Basic I was indoctrinated into a structure, no, a culture that taught me the importance of standards, discipline to those standards, and enforcement of those standards, by Airmen at every level.
I learned it was my responsibility to master my craft.
If I wanted to be a valued team member, I needed to know what the team’s standards were and not only comply
with them, but enforce them. The success of our mission was at stake, and so were the lives of other Airmen.
I quickly learned this wasn’t simply a job, but a profession, and being part of this profession was going to cost me something if I wanted to be a respected member of our team.
I used the spare time when I was sitting around the shop wisely by studying every T.O. and regulation I could get my hands on. I also invested personal time in this endeavor. That investment paid off because I had supervisors who held me accountable to our standard, which in a nutshell was a culture that accepted nothing less than compliance to standards and excellence.
When that inspector drilled me with question after question, I was nervous, but I was prepared, because my leaders not only taught me, but held me accountable. Not only did I excel, but our team did and we were recognized as SAC Superior Performers. Most importantly, we had a culture that we and our Air Force could be proud of, and it was that culture that our enemies feared and helped contribute to winning the Cold War.
Our Air Force leaders recently released AFI 1-1, AF Standards. It’s directive in nature, but more importantly it is a quick reference guide of standards, core values, and plenty of expectations for our Airmen. I view it as a consolidated reference of Air Force culture; every Airman needs to live it and every supervisor needs to keep a copy handy to ensure we not only enforce, but preserve our culture.
The future will certainly present challenges and an enemy who patiently lays in wait to destroy us and our way of life, but how we overcome these challenges and defeat our enemies depends on leaders like you and the culture you tolerate.
Our budget and our service may get smaller, but one thing that cannot change is our standard … the culture we live by. Hopefully the culture in your unit is guided by AFI 1-1 … is it?