Be an Airman first!

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Byron Ball
  • 319th Operations Support Squadron first sergeant
Only 1 percent of our great nation raises their hand to recite the oath of enlistment. No matter what the reason was for joining the military. They have all recited the following: I, _____, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same.

I went to the recruiting station to join the Air Force. I raised my right hand to join the military at the age of 17, four months before I turned 18, and in one week I was in basic training. Just like every other 1 percent that raised our right hand we had to attend a form of basic training to start our journey to fulfill our oath of enlistment.

As Airmen of the United States Air Force we have morale lighthouses such as the Air Force Instruction 1-1, Air Force Standards and AFI 36-2618, The Enlisted Force Structure and our Core Values. These AFIs and institutional competencies were put in place to keep that 1 percent tethered in the event of a trajectory change.

The first paragraph of AFI 1-1 states: "This Air Force Instruction (AFI) implements Air Force Policy Directive 1, Air Force Culture. The importance of the Air Force's mission and inherent responsibility to the Nation requires its members to adhere to higher standards than those expected in civilian life. As Airmen, we are proud of our high standards."

Paragraph 1.1.1 of AFI 36-2618 is something we as Airmen should read, understand, personally display daily, and instill in our Airmen. All of it is important, however I would like to focus on the last two sentences, because they say something so powerful that is often overlooked: "The enlisted force structure and institutional competencies describe what makes us Airmen, not just specialist. We are Airmen first, specialists second."

The Air Force sends you to basic training to be an Airman first, and then you go to technical training to gain an Air Force Specialty Code and not the other way around. Over time AFSCs have developed cultural identities that that overpower our institutional identity, core competencies and basic guiding principles. This mentality is the catalyst for larger problems that we face today in our Air Force, such as Airmen driving under the influence, alcohol-related incidents and sexual assaults just to name a few.

Our core values (integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all we do) are the framework within which military activities take place and are the basis for Air Force policies, guidance, and focus.

In these situation we attack the easy visible identifiers as the problem, but they are just symptoms.

The root cause is some of these decision were made without taking into account our oath, AFI 1-1, AFI 36-2618, and our core values.

As a young Airmen I had to grow up in the military and I've had my fair share of growing pains. Over the last 17 years I have been a part of the greatest air, space, and cyberspace force in the world.  I have had the pleasure of serving alongside a diverse group of functionally and operationally specialized Airmen.

In order for us to truly change our culture we need to direct our efforts. No matter your rank or position our common language in the Air Force should collectively be geared towards being Airmen First!