Let's add 'family' to 'service before self'

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Lee Roberts
  • 12th Flying Training Wing Public Affairs
Recently I had the privilege of meeting with Chief Master Sgt. Rodney Ellison, Air Education and Training Command's Command Chief Master Sergeant, upon my graduation from the Senior NCO Academy.

The chief passed on a message from Gen. William R. Looney III, AETC commander, "It's your duty to take care of your families."

While meeting with Chief Ellison, he told of when, early in his career, he attended an event at his daughter's second grade school. Although he didn't want to go, he found himself sitting next to another child who didn't have a parent in attendance.

Years later when his daughter graduated from high school, she gave a speech and recalled that day when the chief was the only dad who showed up. She also stressed how he showed compassion for the other child.

The impression Chief Ellison made on his daughter was significant. He said at that moment he realized how important families are. The chief said when Airmen have to choose between an Air Force function and a child's school event, they better consider the long-term effect of the choice.

Long after Air Force members leave the service the family remembers these choices, Chief Ellison stressed.

It's ironic the day after I returned home from the Senior NCO Academy my daughter wanted me to attend her preschool function where my wife and I were encouraged to spend time with our daughter putting icing and sprinkles on cookies.

I was one of the few dads who showed up. My wife and I sat with our daughter and a little boy whose parents had not shown up. I chatted with the little boy and soon thereafter his mother arrived.

Still he continued to give me his attention. He sat on my lap and I then asked him if his dad was going to show up. He looked me straight in the eye and said, "He died." He then pointed to heaven and added, "He's up there."

I changed the subject, but soon after I heard his mother telling my wife that his dad was killed in Iraq. My wife had to fight back the tears and I couldn't help but get choked up myself because this little boy will never again have "family time" with his daddy.

I immediately began thinking of how I needed to spend more time with my family. Most Airmen know about "service before self." It is the Air Force Core Value that says "professional duties take precedence over personal desires." However, few Airmen, including myself, are good at fitting their families into this equation.

Airmen sometimes have to spend valuable time away from work taking care of families, which can be a detriment to the mission. Yet, doesn't the mission also suffer when Airmen aren't allowed to tend to family issues?

I believe the pendulum swings both ways when it comes to fitting "family" into the "professional duty" or the "personal desire" categories of the "service before self" core value. But regardless of which way it swings, I'm convinced it's the right thing for supervisors to allow their people to balance official duties and time spent with their families. After all, families significantly impact "service" because none of the men and women in blue could adequately serve without the support of their loved ones.

I think General Looney is right when he says it's our duty to take care of our families. So please don't mistake that "service before self" means it is OK to forget about your duty to your family and Air Force family.

We all need to take care of our families. Supervisors: You must also take care of your Air Force family. Allow your people to balance mission requirements with family. The mission will benefit in the long run.

I can't forget the little boy pointing to his daddy in heaven. His innocent gesture helped me recognize the importance of family and made me want to be there for my wife and children to cherish every moment I spend with them.