FAIRCHILD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. — “I’ll flip you for it.”
I’m sure we’ve all heard those words, but I’m willing to bet not many have heard them come from a noncommissioned officer. When I first heard those words nearly 10 years ago as an airman first class, I’ll admit I thought it was funny. A technical sergeant and I were having a discussion about the most efficient way to go about taking inventory of our equipment. My idea involved having everyone pitch in, to include the NCOs.
As he said, “I’ll flip you for it,” I thought I had a 50/50 chance of winning. Instead of pulling out a coin, the sergeant covered up his rank and then asked that I do the same. Confused, I followed his lead only to catch on the moment he flipped his hand off his rank. As he nodded for me to do the same, he sneered and said, “Looks like I won.”
At that moment, I discovered my new mantra, “Rank doesn’t make right.”
In that NCO’s mind, his rank meant he was always right — especially when it came to Airmen. However, his attitude and disregard for a young Airman and his idea were wrong.
As I put on my technical sergeant stripe this past April, I recalled that day nearly 10 years ago. I promised myself never to be the type of NCO to dismiss my Airmen so flippantly.
I remembered how that sergeant would walk around and belittle the Airmen. He made it well known that he had been in the Air Force for 15 years. He had seen and done a lot and should be revered for his experience. I remembered how the other Airmen and I would gripe and complain about that sergeant.
None of us wanted to turn out like him. Whenever he was around, activity in our shop would decrease while feelings of inadequacy and doubt increased.
NCOs lead and develop subordinates. Air Force Instruction 36-2618, The Enlisted Force Structure, goes into great detail about how we are to carry ourselves in order to promote good order and discipline to get the job done.
In truth, NCOs do have more knowledge in the ways of the Air Force and all its traditions, customs, courtesies and instructions. We should share those with our Airmen. However, we have to be aware that we are a diverse Air Force with people from many different backgrounds, experience and education. To discredit and objectify subordinates to nothing more than their rank hurts not only the Airmen, but the mission and personal credibility as well.
Society is ever changing in the ways it does business and as an Air Force, we must as well. We cannot rely on old ways of thinking. Airmen today have new ways and ideas that must not be thrown to the side with a careless, “I’ll flip you for it,” attitude.
Believe it or not, we can learn from our subordinates just as much as they can learn from us.