BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE, La. — As Airmen, we are more than familiar with the need to fill the proverbial squares as we strive to progress in our military career.
To be competitive for awards and promotions, we must commit ourselves to goals such as education, passing the fitness exam, and community service. It is through completion of these expectations and requirements that we become better leaders, managers and Airmen. However, somewhere along the way, we fail to internalize the importance of why we fill these squares.
In reality, the squares are designed to make us better and provide a separation between the willing and unwilling – the committed and uncommitted. The squares help identify Airmen who are motivated and willing to go the extra mile to better themselves, their team, and the Air Force. It is this drive towards self-improvement that separates one from the masses and establishes his or her true identity.
One square that requires a great deal of commitment is the pursuit of education. As we continually strive to become that “whole person,” we must challenge ourselves intellectually and work toward attaining a certification; associate, bachelor’s, or even a master’s degree. Attending school is not easy and takes sacrifice. It means spending your time writing a research paper, while everyone else is enjoying the weekend. It means taking your textbook on the flightline and studying every chance you get. It means being the security forces Airman I saw reading a biology book while eating breakfast in the dining facility.
At this moment some of you are saying there is no time to attend school; high operations tempo, 40-hour work week, and spending time with family are a few reasons that prevent you from taking classes. Additionally, some of you may feel we should be evaluated solely on work performance.
Honestly, these excuses are hindering you from progressing and improving yourself. If you continue to hide behind them, like I once did, you will never take yourself to the next level.
It took a long time to realize that fear and toxic excuses prevented me from seeking an education. Constant mentorship and a few one-way “conversations” from a chief master sergeant propelled me down the road of education.
Dedicating yourself to filling the squares is a decision only you can make. By filling them you demonstrate the willingness of constant self-improvement and unwavering commitment, which directly benefits you, your team, and the Air Force. Filling the squares also establishes separation from your peers and it is through this separation that you are most likely to fulfill your career aspirations and goals.
The choice is yours and yours alone. Be willing to accept the consequences. Don’t say, “He/she only got Senior Airman below-the-zone because he went to school.” Rather, you must say, “I lost because I chose not to go to school. I chose not to fill the squares.”