'Who is it We Are?'

GRAND FORKS AIR FORCE BASE, N.D. -- One of the best things about Air Force Airmen is our diversity. We all come from different places, cultures, ethnicities, and some from different countries. These strengths make us unstoppable and world renowned. How we use this strength enables us to gather many ideas on accomplishing the mission at hand and see a situation from another's perspective that we may not have been thought of. We have been trained to understand this in resiliency, Wingman Days, computer-based training sessions, and during significant holidays such as Martin Luther King Day in which a great man paved the way for every single person to be equal, dream, have passion, and most of all the right to be themselves. But with all of this who is it we really are?

I like to take notes at events on the information that strikes me as important or something I want to remember, to help me better myself or my Airmen. Not everyone attends these events, so to get them a piece of what they missed may make them think 'I need to go to more of these.' I attended the wing Martin Luther King Day Luncheon January 20; our guest speaker was Dr. Malika Carter. She used the phrase, "Who is it we are?" It stuck with me so much so that I wanted others to hear it. This phrase can ignite more questions within oneself and it should. Airmen all have a reason why they joined, reasons for staying in just four years or staying in through retirement, and they all have a history different than everyone else's. During the course of life reasons may change, paths may take different turns, but ultimately we control who we are and how we contribute to a legacy.

As a prior Military Training Instructor (MTI), I was able to see the Airmen as civilians upon arrival. Their different ways of speaking, the various fashion statements, mannerisms, and posture are just some ways that portray who they were as an individual prior to becoming a Wingman. Ultimately, we have to be psychologists (in a sense) to understand what drives the individuals, what makes them click, and how to get them to use their individuality as a contributing factor for the team of other individuals to complete training and become Airmen. Airmen have come in to the Air Force from living on the streets, to get away from abusive families or lifestyles, to signify that they want to be a part of something greater. All of them learn in different ways whether kinetic, auditory, or visual. What works to get one Airman motivated may not work for another. For instance, I had one young lady that was verbally abused growing up. She would be yelled at nonstop. Everyone knows what MTIs are good at -- yelling, right? Yelling at this young lady just made her shut down; she was putting a wall up to protect herself. I had to go about making her understand things much differently than with assertiveness. She turned out to be a great resource for the Air Force. If we as leaders, no matter what our jobs are, take the time to understand our Airmen and what motivates them they will far exceed our expectations.

Life experiences also make us who we are. We have heard Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force James Cody express that everyone has an Air Force story and as leaders we should be sharing our experiences with others. Ever get the feeling that Airmen think we have always worn all of these stripes and we were never young Airmen once? We were not all perfect growing into our Air Force careers, I know I was not! I could tell stories for days on the trials and tribulations I had as a young Airman. Some of the stories it took me years (and I mean years) to be able to share.

Teaching at the SNCO and NCO Professional Education courses, I have learned that some individuals do not want to share their experiences; they do not want their Airmen to know them that intimately. When I was an NCO, I completely agreed with this philosophy. There was no way I wanted others to know the trouble I got into or the life situations I had. I did not want my Airmen to see me differently or think that I was not good enough to be their NCO. I started opening my eyes a little more each day. I would talk to one of my Airman, who was hurting or going through some tough times. They would share their story with the look on their face, hoping I understood their issues and not judge them. I then began sharing my stories, more so one-on-one at first, and always with the preface that what I say does not leave the room. Then I thought, "Well, how is that going to help others? How is that going help these Airmen tell other Airmen that I am here for them and I will listen, help, and understand where they are coming from?" That is when I opened the door wide open! Sharing my experiences did a number of things: it helped me grow as a person and an Airman, my Airmen see me as a human just with more life experiences, and it enables me to know who I am, who I want to continue to be, and who it is that I am!

Who is it that you are?