Actions speak louder than words

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Ryan Sparks
  • 319th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
Last week I attended the Profession of Arms Center of Excellence training here. The training lasted five hours and focused on the topic of professionalism and changing the Air Force culture through leadership. The briefer spoke about leadership and lightheartedly suggested an idea that we should replace commander parking spots with Airmen parking spots.

I've only been to six military bases in my nearly two-year career, but they all seem to have the same policy. Every commissary, exchange, fitness center, bowling alley, club, etc. has at least two little brown signs reserving spots for leadership. What kind of message does it send to an Airman when they see these brown signs after sitting through an All-Call about the importance of Airmen?

The real issue is the bigger picture. We must ensure that our words are brought to life through our actions. If Airmen are truly the most important piece of the Air Force, then we need to show them.

The Air Force does an incredible job of providing opportunities to learn and grow. We constantly have small professional development courses and there are several universities that provide degree programs at our base education center.

We need to take that a step farther. Many Airmen, like myself, are enlisting much later in life and have more life experience than would be expected in the past. I already have a degree and I know many new Airmen who are in the same situation. Even our young Airmen that join out of high school come in with more knowledge than anyone would expect. Technology has provided them a way to educate themselves and stay ahead of the game.

I was raised without technology at my fingertips because it wasn't popular when I was a child. Today, our youngest Airmen were born in 1998. They have had technology in their hands from nearly the moment they were born. They are also the first generation that doesn't vividly remember what happened on Sept. 11, 2001. I'm not saying they don't understand what happened and how tragic it was, but they can't tell you exactly where they were at that moment.

How can we take advantage of this new generation of Airmen? It's simple; let them have the opportunity to make a larger impact. A new generation means a new way of communication. What has worked on Airmen in the past might work on an old man like me, but it won't work for most of our new Airmen.

It's up to our supervisors and leadership to help change the environment. Don't just show Airmen the way things are done or how they've always been done, but challenge them to show you how they think it should be done.

The Air Force has done a great job providing services and benefits to Airmen, but I want to see our leaders flip the script on leadership. I want our leaders to go to Airmen when they have a problem that needs solved. The answer to most, if not all, of our problems and obstacles lies in the more than capable minds of our newest Airmen. We can't waste that incredible resource.

I want our leaders to plant their feet in the ground and lift up each and every Airman. If we can create a culture driven by each Airman, equally, then maybe we can further develop the greatest leaders our generation has ever seen.

While the message is aimed in the right direction, we must prove that the message is sincere. In my experience, people will commit to an idea when they feel the person behind that idea is committed to them. Let's find a way to show Airmen that the Air Force is committed.

Maybe removing the little brown signs won't make a difference, but any effort to improve our culture will go a long way towards keeping us as the world's greatest Air Force. There is no limit to the potential our young Airmen possess. The key is allowing them to realize that potential.

What do you bring to the fight? What could you do if given the opportunity?