Leadership Lessons: Be the Air Force

  • Published
  • By Col. Paul E. Bauman
  • 319th Air Base Wing commander
We were all recently sent an e-mail from the Secretary of the Air Force. The Secretary, the Air Force Chief of Staff, and Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force took the time to pen that message because reaching out to their Airmen matters to them. They care about explaining what it means to be an Airman. I think taking a few minutes to contemplate, and build on their message is worthwhile.

The crux of the message was fairly simple--being an Airman is more than a job. Our Service's leadership emphasized that we are in the profession of arms, entrusted to defend America according to a set of Core Values. They also emphasized the importance of virtue, character, dignity, and respect. Our leadership essentially laid out a basic set of standards by which we must adhere to earn the title of Airman. It is a path we must walk to uphold our traditions and earn the honor of serving in this great Air Force.

That path has to do with protecting and serving America, abiding by our Core Values--Integrity, Service, and Excellence--and Airmen being responsible and accountable for upholding those values. This includes fulfilling their duty to intervene when needed, whether preventing or reporting a sexual assault, finding a more effective or efficient way to accomplish the mission, or ensuring a wingman is representing our Air Force in the best way possible. We are responsible for ourselves as well as our fellow Airmen, our wingmen. This is what it means to be part of the Air Force.

Let's be honest--how we go about our jobs every day has a great deal to do with motivation. We all join the Air Force for different reasons, but we all end up on the same team. Some of us are new to the Air Force and are just learning what it means to be an Airman. Others of us have been serving for many years. Regardless of our time in service, we all have a reason, a motivation, for what we do--the actions we take and the decisions we make.

If you doubt the importance of motivation, let me tell you that I see a lot of people and hear a lot of stories as the wing commander. When I talk to every Airman who has gotten a DUI, there is never one of them that has placed their mission, their wingmen, the Air Force, the American public, or indeed their very lives above their personal motivation to have a good time. And let's not forget that nearly every DUI story has several other Airmen involved who let a bad situation get worse through motivations of their own that had nothing to do with serving our nation or upholding our Core Values. When I deal with sexual assault cases, you would be amazed at the opportunities for Airmen to step up and display good character to intervene in a situation before it goes bad, but the duty to intervene is apparently overridden by personal motivations.

Motivations matter, pure and simple. If you still doubt that motivations matter, pick up the citations for our officer, enlisted, and civilian annual award winners. These Airmen were recognized because they quite obviously have dedicated themselves to something bigger than themselves. They understand that giving of themselves to the mission, to their fellow Airmen, to the Air Force, and to the nation is vitally important to our team. These award winners will also be the first to point to their many teammates around them that make their recognition possible.

We have outstanding Airmen working around us each and every day and they are an absolute joy to be around. It's the Airman in the Military Personnel Section who ensures your PCS paperwork is error free so you have a smooth move. It's the Security Forces Airman who greets you with a confident smile and welcomes you to the installation when you come to work each today. It's the supervisor who sits down with you to ask how things are going, what you are doing this weekend, and how your family is doing. It's the Civil Engineering Airman who fixes the heat in your office to make you and your office mates more comfortable. It's the Global Hawk pilot who shows up early or stays late to ensure an EQ-4 or RQ-4 was on station in case a firefight broke out in the area of responsibility or some necessary intelligence was gathered for national decision-makers. It's the medic who professionally records your "vitals" and hands you off quickly to a doctor so your illness can be identified and cured.

These outstanding Airmen don't do these things because they are focused on what is in it for them. They are motivated by something bigger than themselves. They are dedicated to an ideal, a system, and way of life that we call the Air Force...our Force...our Team...our Family. And our family has values, a creed, and beliefs--all rooted in tradition and part of the very fabric of our Service.

I encourage everyone to think a little bit about what motivates you. When you do something, are you motivated about what you will get out of it or is it about how you can contribute to your fellow Airmen and the Air Force mission? You may have joined the Air Force because of education. You may have joined because you wanted to see the country and the world. You may have joined for another reason. But the real question is why are you serving now? Are you a full-time student with a side job as an Airman? Are you a party animal with an 8-hour-a-day job in ABUs? Are you more concerned about getting home for a backyard BBQ than why an Airman in your office looks beaten down and depressed? Are you more concerned about how cool you look at the bar on Friday night than the fact your "designated driver" is drinking alcohol?

Look yourself in the eye next time you pass a mirror and ask yourself why you are serving in the United States Air Force. Ask yourself if you spend more time worrying about what you get in benefits than what you can give to your fellow Airmen and our mission. Are integrity, service, and excellence just words or are they concepts to you? When the Chief of Staff of the Air Force or your wing commander empowers you to clean up our Air Force, do you scoff or do you seriously consider what that means? Are you an Airman first? Are you a true CAC-carrying, Core Values-toting, 24/7/365 Airman? If you are honest with yourself, you may just find that a change of priorities is in order. And when your priorities are straight, you might be surprised at what you can do, what you can affect, and the power you have as a true member of Team Air Force. In the end, it's not about being a member of the Air Force...it's about BEING the Air Force.