Leadership Lessons: 'A' is for Airman

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Kathy Naylor
  • 319th Medical Support Squadron commander
When I joined the Air Force, I was amazed by the number of acronyms that are used in everyday conversation. When I started working in a Joint Environment four years ago there were even more acronyms used by our sister services that I had to comprehend. I learned that that the Army has seven core values: Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity and Personal courage, which smartly spells an acronym - "LDRSHIP" - to help each soldier remember them. All the leadership lessons I have learned while in the Air Force can actually be summed up in one easy to remember acronym: AIR FORCE -- Airmen, Integrity, Readiness, 5Fs, Occupation, Resources, Caring and Excellence. AIR FORCE stands for what I value as a leader, a follower and a team member.

"A" is for "Airmen." The mission of the United States Air Force is to "fly, fight and win...in air, space and cyberspace," while the mission of the Air Mobility Command is to "provide global air mobility ... right effects, right place, right time." So no matter what our job, skill set or specialty is in the Air Force; if we are active duty, guard or reserve; military, civilian or contractor, we are members of the profession of arms and support the Air Force mission as "Airmen" - not soldiers, sailors or Marines. As such, our approach to problems, tasks and projects should emulate our mission.  Every military service has a creed and its purpose is to define a set of fundamental beliefs or principles to help guide the actions of an organization. The Airman's Creed provides the foundation for building one's character. We need to uphold the Airman's creed and share its philosophy with others so we can continue to feel pride in the great profession we have chosen.

"I" is for "Integrity." The first core value for the Air Force is "Integrity First" and it should be honored in both our official duties and in our private lives. Integrity is paramount. We need integrity to build trust, and we need to trust each other in order to build a functional team and family. Choose to hold yourself accountable for your actions and people will believe in your trustworthiness and responsibility.

"R" is for "Readiness." Readiness is a top priority at all levels of the Air Force.  Readiness encompasses our health, training and equipment readiness. It is our responsibility to take care of ourselves through proper fitness, a balanced diet, and regular sleep. In turn, we want our deployers to be safe, healthy and a success, as well as have the equipment they need in order to accomplish the mission, so go the extra mile when they need our help.

"F" is for the 319th Air Base Wing Commander's 5Fs: Faith, Family, Friends, Future and Freedom. My mom, who is a wise woman and a breast cancer survivor, always told me that we are put in certain situations, meet people or move to certain locations for a purpose. And she could not have been more right again. On one of my shelves at home is a framed, cross-stitch that my mother made me years ago that I cherish. On the cross-stich in red, white and blue are the words: Faith, Family, Friends and Freedom which frame four hearts in the middle (see picture). My mom made this - maybe knowingly, like moms do - that in the "future" this would mean much more to me once I moved to Grand Forks, where these are now all of our guiding principles.

"O" is for "Occupation." Even though the military is an all-volunteer force, we are also employed by the Air Force and have a job to do. We cannot take anyone for granted, and those who are more experienced in a particular specialty need to mentor and groom less experienced colleagues to help them become experts in their careers. We also need to take pride in our position and our workplace, by doing the best job we can, like finding ways we can improve our work process through AFSO21 and working as a team toward the common good.

"R" is for "Resources." This is not just about being good stewards of the taxpayers money, it is also about utilizing resources more effectively and efficiently, whether it is how we use our time during the duty day (are we really doing work or are looking at Facebook or texting our friends?); using only what we need (ordering supplies we need in the next 30 days or stocking piling items in case there is an apocalypse); and being mindful of the environment (recycling, lights turned off at the end of the day). By becoming good stewards of our resources, we actually can do more with less; it is all how it is presented.

"C" is for "Caring."  "Pay It Forward" has been the catchphrase for the 21st century yet it really means the same thing as being civil with each other, actually caring about someone beside oneself. This is what the second core value of the Air Force is: "Service before Self." It is about caring about others, our customers, our co-workers, our neighbors, our community, our partner nations; and at times our enemies, without expecting anything in return. It is also respecting the dignity of all human beings and supporting and encouraging them to develop to their fullest potential, to not demean other people. It also includes appreciating individual differences which actually add value to an organization. Unfortunately, the reality is, civility is not second nature and people do need to make a concerted effort to help someone out, by doing something for someone else out of the kindness of their heart.

"E" is for "Excellence."  The Air Force's third core value is "Excellence in All We Do" but I would like expand this "E" to include other "E" words like enthusiasm, energy, excitement, enjoyment and education. This philosophy pertains to every aspect of someone's life - professional, familial, spiritual, societal, intellectual and physical.  If we do not feel like we are excelling in or enjoying a certain aspect in our life, then we need to not be afraid reach out and find ways to improve those areas. This can come many forms through counseling, coaches, mentors, chaplains, media, professional military education, higher degrees or certifications, and it is never ending process. No one is perfect but we should strive to be the best that we can be. In addition, we should love life - even with its ups and downs. Steve Jobs, former CEO of Apple, always encouraged his employees to find "their passion". The military is our passion so we need to find ways to be enthusiastic or excited about coming to work and enjoy what we do, have pride, smile to people, acknowledge their presence, say "hello" - all so it becomes a natural response.

What is great about AIR FORCE is that we see it every duty day on the ABUs, which is a constant reminder of who we are, where we came from and where we are going. And before the Air Force on the ABUs is "U.S." Yes, it stands for United States of America which unites us with our sister services. However, you could also look at it as "US - AIRFORCE". All of us are one team, one fight, one Air Force.  To me, true faith and allegiance to our mission, our way of life and the profession of arms are special and require an extraordinary group of professionals in order to "fly, fight and win!" So go out there -- take care of the mission, take care of your people, and be sure to take care of yourself. Go AIR FORCE!