Dignity & Respect; Are You on the Team?

  • Published
  • By Maj. Frank Burks
  • 319th Comptroller Squadron commander
"Dignity & Respect" is a key topic on the minds of the Air Force's most senior leadership. The Chief of Staff of the Air Force's position: "Treating EVERY Airman with dignity and respect must be at the heart of who we are and how we operate. It isn't a 'tag' line; it's the core of everything we stand for as a service". There's no room for misinterpretation here...must be at the heart of who we are...at the core of everything we stand for. I recently had the opportunity to discuss the topic at one of my commander's calls, and the issue is important enough I wanted to share my thoughts here.

In my humble opinion, a supervisor's number one job is to take care of his or her Airmen; but what does that mean? In part, it means providing Airmen the resources needed to accomplish the mission, it means providing training and opportunities for growth and advancement, it means knowing their Airmen's personal goals and helping them achieve them, ensuring they are aware of the resources to help provide for the well-being of their family, and quite possibly most important it means providing a work environment that is free of harassment, intimidation or bullying. How can any of us take care of our Airmen if we allow "off-color" jokes or fail to correct discriminatory, harassing, or bullying behavior? Simply put, you can't.

Dignity and Respect isn't an issue unique to the Air Force or the military, it is sadly a reflection of our current culture and society. The Miami Dolphins were recently in the headlines for a Dignity and Respect issue that tore the team apart. Johnathon Martin was the victim of bullying and left the team, and Richie Incognito was suspended eight games for leading and encouraging the behavior. Teammates Mike Pouncy and John Jerry engaged in and permitted the behavior to take place; both drew intense scrutiny for failing to do the right thing (taking care of their teammate...aka wingman). Additionally, offensive line coach Jim Turner was fired. We've all heard rumors of locker room talk, but the details of this scandal clearly exceed what is acceptable behavior. With the exception of Johnathon Martin, how easy would it have been for just one person on that team to stand up and simply do the right thing? What could have been a very positive outcome had just one person done the right thing resulted in a disaster that could have impacts for years to come. We as Airmen can't afford to make these mistakes--we need to be that "one person" who does the right thing. Our nation is watching, and our nation demands more.

As I'm sure my fellow squadron commanders and other Air Force leaders do, I view my unit as a team. I view myself as the coach, with superintendents, flight chiefs, and first sergeants all as assistant coaches. The team goals don't have to be too in-depth: accomplish the mission, improve the unit, build better teammates, set the team up for success, and take care of each other. The point is we all have a position on the team, and we need to ensure we are doing our part. The problem is not everyone realizes they have a role in promoting a workplace built on Dignity and Respect; this isn't an optional role...it's mandatory. As I reflect on my 22 years of service, there are numerous times when I could have positively influenced a situation and did not. I now find myself wondering how many people I could have helped had I been that "one person."

We all know there are work centers out there that are not fully productive because someone, maybe even only one person, is being discriminated against, harassed, or bullied. The phrase "Every Airman Counts" isn't a cliché. Each of us brings something unique to the fight, and each of us when given the right support and environment can make the team stronger. The Secretary of the Air Force recently sent a note to all Airmen underscoring the importance of our core values. In her words: "Throughout our history as a service, Airmen with tremendous moral courage have taught us there is no replacement for virtue, character, dignity and respect. Today's Airman - Active, Guard, Reserve and civilian - must continue this tradition." The Air Force needs you to have the moral courage the SECAF is referring to.

Bottom line; every one of us has a responsibility to create an atmosphere that promotes "Equal Opportunity" and a workplace that is free of discrimination for any reason; racism, sexism, intimidation or bullying, and that respects a person's religious beliefs and practices.

My challenge to you: become the Airman everyone feels comfortable with, the one people can relay their problems, concerns and suggestions to. Become a role model, don't tolerate even the smallest infraction and challenge leadership that doesn't take action. None of us would tolerate our child, spouse or family member being subjected to any type of disrespectful or harassing behavior, and it should be no different with your teammate or fellow Airman!

So, this begs the question, are you on the team?