Commentary

May 17, 2013

When did you learn your core values?

Col. Elizabeth Decker
6th Medical Operations Squadron commander

MACDILL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. — Next month will mark my 24th year in the Air Force and this has given me reason to pause and reflect on my time in uniform.

Many things have changed since I graduated college and took my oath to support and defend.

Uniforms have gone through several iterations during that time. Airmen were still wearing fatigues when I joined, then BDUs and now ABUs. The fitness assessment has gone through several modifications from a 1.5-mile run, to the bike and now the more comprehensive assessment. With all that change, there has been one constant: our Air Force Core Values.

We each have a plethora of values, but some are so primary, so important to us, that in spite of the change around us they are still the core values we abide by. In an ever-changing world, core values are constant. The Air Force Core Values are not descriptions of the work we do or the strategies we apply to accomplish our mission. They are the basic elements of how we go about our work. They are the practices we use (or should be using) every day in everything we do.

The core values provide excellent guideposts on how to conduct our professional military lives. Because they are so closely associated with the Air Force, we don’t often think about their broader application. In actuality, they are great guides for our personal lives as well.

My daughter reminded me how this was true even for an 11-year-old when I was helping her with her homework last year. She had rushed through the writing assignment, declared she was done and went off to watch TV. I took a look at the assignment and couldn’t decipher most of it. I called her back and asked her to do it again but this time to take her time. Her face let me know that this was not part of her plan. Then I asked her if she knew the Air Force core values. She gave me another interesting look and said, “No.” I went into a discussion of the core values focusing on Excellence. In her case, incorporating excellence, or doing it right the first time, would have saved her time and a lecture. Most of us have learned lessons by making mistakes. In most cases, pausing to think about our core values would have prevented learning the lesson the hard way.

In a previous position I had the privilege of working with young Airmen right out of Basic Military Training. They had just spent eight weeks learning how to be an Airman. During our first meeting I would discuss the core values and explain how following them could guarantee their success in technical training. Integrating the core values would allow them to succeed in their courses and keep them out of trouble outside the classroom.

They needed to make the core values a way of life — both on and off duty. I had plenty of examples of Airmen that made poor decisions that could easily have been avoided if they had just taken a minute and integrated the core values into their decision making. It was important to reinforce not just what the core values are but why it is important to utilize them on a regular basis. It was rewarding to see the light bulb go on for some of those Airmen.

The Air Force will continue to see change. Who knows what future Airmen will be wearing or what their fitness assessment will include? What we do know is that our core values will continue to provide us with the foundation necessary to make the right decisions and to get the mission done.




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