A culture of excellence – Do you rent or own?

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sergeant Gerardo Tapia
  • Command Chief, Air Education and Training Command
Military service culture has always had deep roots in tradition, history and folklore. Over time, policies, people, geography, circumstances and tragedies can also influence the panorama of our essence and shape the way we live, fight and behave. After the last ten years, no one can say that our Air Force fights from the rear. Who would have ever thought that we now have more vehicle operators with combat experience than we have combat controllers? A mid-eighties sedentary military lifestyle has been replaced with one where we place a high value on speed, precision, education, technology and individual fitness. One thing, however, that has remained constant over time is our culture of excellence and our persistence to never give up. No one I know or associate with wakes up every morning wondering what they can purposely break or make worse. We don't train, practice, teach, mentor or coach expecting to lose. We just don't settle for second place, it's just not in our DNA.

Organizations, businesses or sports teams that have long histories of success often share common traits. Some of these traits include cultivating and developing internal talent, practicing, enhancing and solidifying the foundation that make them a winning team or successful organization. They foster the "team" versus the "individual" concept. They become experts in the fundamentals, the blocking and tackling of their business enterprise. Many recognize and applaud the "extra" effort regardless of whether it was personal or team driven. They reward positive results and hold each other accountable for when the team falls short. How is our Air Force spirit and warrior culture any different?

From the moment many of your young recruits step off the bus at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland they are challenged with "fitting in". New clothes, language, standards, accountability and teamwork are stressed at every juncture of training. We talk about "Excellence" all the time...but after you've been around the block once or twice, how do you maintain an edge and a culture of excellence? Well first, it needs to be more than attitude, it needs substance. Don't get me wrong; the right attitude is important, but it needs to be backed up by a solid day-to-day performance, personal accountability, self-discipline and motivation to be at the top of your game. Swagger and confidence are nice but mean nothing without results and the hard work that goes with it.

If your name is on the jet, own it. When you own something, when it costs you, when you value and respect something, when you are invested, it dictates how you treat it. Have you ever washed and detailed a rental car before you turn it back in? Of course not...why? Because it's not yours...get it? Take the same approach with those you lead, motivate and inspire every single day...OK so you don't "own" them like your parents "owned" you, but you know what I mean. Do you look for opportunities for them to shine and contribute? Are you vested in their personal and professional development? What about your peers; do you hold them accountable when they lag behind in standards and performance? Do you speak up when it's unpopular to do so? Is being an Airman who you are or what you do for a living?

The culture of excellence is a feeling you get when you know people can count on you, it is a method of thinking, an internal drive, a work ethic, a bounce in your step, a stride with purpose and most importantly a resolve not to accept anything in your presence that you wouldn't hang your family name on. Do you own or rent the space you're taking up?

See you in the trenches,
Airman Tapia