'This isn't my Air Force anymore'

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Chris Stricklin and Chief Master Sgt. Zefrem Smith
  • 14th Flying Training Wing Chief of Safety and 14th Operations Group Superintendent
Recently, in the Columbus AFB Commissary, two retired Airmen approached a member of the BLAZE team. Both were very polite, but had several questions and concerns about our current Air Force. One asked if we were still required to wear hats outside and salute officers. Multiple Airmen had been seen wearing their uniforms improperly and not rendering the proper customs and courtesies.

The second asked if we were still required to stop during the National Anthem, face the flag, and salute. This question was driven by their observation of Airmen continuing to walk or making a mad dash inside when the first note of retreat sounded. You could see the disappointment in their eyes as they voiced their feeling that the Air Force allowed standards to slip and get too lax in daily operations. The last thing they offered was, "This isn't my  Air Force anymore."

A complaint is one thing, but the last statement left a mark to ponder. Have we truly failed those who paved the way before us? Those on whose shoulders we now squarely stand? Have we allowed a loosening of the discipline and standards from "their" Air Force in "our" Air Force? Is this how they view us?

This editorial is not intended to be a critique of Columbus, but a glimpse of an observation across the service. What is the status of our dedication to sound military traditions? Have we allowed the "small things," like saluting and rendering appropriate customs and courtesies to be overlooked so long it is now a "big" problem? Do we consider ourselves too busy to have time for these "small things?" What does this mean to, and for, our future?

First, referring to the items above as small things is a problem in itself. Failure to salute, not wearing a hat and ducking the anthem during retreat are not small. They demonstrate a lack of discipline, attention to detail and abandonment of our Air Force Core Values. They are a departure from the required, and expected, norm. Referring to these items as small marks the beginnings of an excuse that these things do not matter or assist in accomplishing the mission. Please allow us to show you how this mentality is the beginning of the end.

The obvious path of correction to this perceived deficiency is to cite the many regulations directing our adherence to standards for personal appearance (AFI 36-2903) or the Professional Development Guide (AF Pamphlet 36-2241), which sets a basic knowledge for customs and courtesies. Truth is, we thoroughly know these requirements.

The training instructors at basic military training and our officer accession programs were nice enough to ensure a basic working knowledge of these rules and standards when we entered the service. With this, pointing out the regulations does not seem like the obvious answer anymore. Plus, reciting dress and personal appearance requirements would make for a boring editorial which you would probably stop reading. In reality, we all know the rules and have allowed some of these requirements to slide, albeit unintentional. We do not want to be known as the one who corrects other Airmen. We do not want to be perceived as the Hammer who corrects their peers.

In reality, adherence to military customs and courtesies make us who we are ... customs and courtesies are the essence of our military culture, they set us apart as a profession of arms, and they establish our profession as clearly different than our civilian friends and neighbors. A strong and mature Airman should be grateful when you take the time to point out a deficiency in protocol or an overlooked discrepancy in the wear of a uniform. This is one item for which the Air Force needs to practice more often.

When professionalism is discussed, the Air Force Core Values must always be referenced. This discussion is no different, and there exists no single document which more clearly establishes the importance of the attention to detail we need to reestablish. As we thumb through "The Little Blue Book," it clearly addresses the deficiencies this editorial is examining. Integrity first is defined as the "willingness to do what is right even when no one is looking."

The behaviors listed under service before self include rule following, respect for others and discipline. Finally, excellence in all we do "directs us to develop a sustained passion for continuous improvement." If we ensure adherence to these principles, the issues addressed in this article will cease to exist.

AFPAM 36-2241 reminds us, "all who pride themselves as a member of the world's greatest air and space team need to tell others about what it means to be an Air Force member." Customs and courtesies demonstrate politeness and much more. They promote morale, esprit de corps, discipline, and mission effectiveness. They lay a foundation, ensuring respect for the chain of command, for those who have gone before and those who will follow.

They lay the foundation for self-discipline.

Each salute you render says you are a proud member of the Air Force. A salute pays respect to those of higher and lower rank, reaffirms your adherence to the rules, and is not a haphazard exception to the rule.

Each time you put your uniform on, you are reaffirming your oath and dedication to the profession of arms.

Each time you salute the flag, you are telling those around you our Air Force will protect this great nation at whatever the cost. When we grow older and refer to our Air Force, let's ensure it is one in which we are proud of and one in which we made better.

The 14th Flying Training Wing commander recently spoke about being a wingman. His expectation is for us to maintain our moral compass with integrity and take care of each other. We can begin fulfilling this expectation with adherence to details and standards. Does rendering a salute ensure our nation remains free? If we allow courtesy to falter, discipline will fail. If discipline ceases to function, the accomplishment of our mission is impossible.

Tto the retirees who voiced their concern in the commissary, the Air Force member you spoke to in the commissary felt you wanted to be heard ... message received.