Tag Archives: excellence

Toeing the line on standards, Sept. 28, 2012

 

Standards graphicBy Master Sgt. Edward A. Dierkens
30th Intelligence Squadron

For the past four years of my career, as a first sergeant, I have heard the words, “But Shirt, he’s a good guy,” far too many times.

Whether it was for a failed physical training test or substandard performance of noncommissioned officer responsibilities, the same statement would pop up time and again.

One would think these words would have been uttered by a young NCO, or maybe even a young officer; but more often than not, these words were coming from seasoned NCOs and senior NCOs as well as the occasional officer. Usually, the next phrase would be, “But we don’t want to hurt their career,” which is almost just as frustrating.

It’s all about the standards for 99 percent of what I have seen relating to commander-worked issues for the past four years. The one percent is usually the outlier, the very extreme situation where myriad things came together to form a perfect storm in which the service member could not prevent what was happening. However, the vast majority is the part that interests me most and how we hold service members accountable for their actions in accordance with the standards.

The first part of the problem is remembering the standards.

The Air Force asks its Airmen to be phenomenal, in accordance with AFI 36-2618, “The Enlisted Force Structure,” which states we are Airmen first, specialists second. There are times when Airmen forget this notion and think that all that is sacred is the mission, many times at the expense of other Airmen and their families. The half hour it takes to conduct a formal feedback, or the five minutes it takes to sit down and ask their subordinates how they are doing or how was your weekend is something often taken for granted. How do we hold supervisors accountable for not fulfilling their responsibilities as NCOs and senior NCOs? My blood pressure goes up a tick when I hear the words, “But he is a good Airman,” to which I rebut, “No, he is a good worker. If he were a good Airman, we would not be talking about what he did wrong but rather the great things he is doing.”

When do we say, “Now it’s time to hold you accountable”?

For some supervisors, the time to hold their Airmen accountable doesn’t come because they view it as hurting the Airman’s career. They do not acknowledge the corrosive effects it has on the Airmen who are doing everything right all the time, those Airmen who are “truly among the best,” as our performance reports reflect. This is a huge disservice to those that are getting it done every day. Not to mention, it’s not us who are hurting their career. Ultimately, it’s them. So how do you get someone to see the big picture? Sometimes getting people to realize that not everyone is a “5” takes some work.

In addition to job performance, another frequently worked issue is fitness.

Somewhere along the line, many supervisors seem to have forgotten physical fitness is a standard. AFI 36-2905, “Fitness Program,” states this fact as well as block three on all enlisted performance reports. The easy part of this standard is that the Air Force has taken all subjectivity out of it with the “Meets or Does Not Meet” options when the performance report closes out. The only problem with that is what do you do when there are one, two, or maybe even three failures in a twelve month period, then the member passes before an EPR closes out? How does that get documented? What exactly is the standard? Table A19.1, AFI 36-2905, has a guideline on what commanders could impose at each failure, but it is an illustrative table only, not binding.

Many discussions surface in which people think since block three on the performance report references fitness, it is, therefore, the only place where such ratings should be captured. In reality, the enlisted performance reports have several sections that should also be considered when dealing with fitness to include leadership, followership, mentorship and readiness. That being said, it would be very difficult to let fitness dwell in box three alone. Imagine for a moment that you are the young Airman, and your supervisor or mentor is the one not meeting the standard.

How would that make you feel?

Or imagine you’re the Airman who has to deploy on short notice because one of your peers has failed again and cannot deploy due to a control-roster action. Meanwhile, this Airman may be intent on passing his next assessment before his next performance report closes out knowing full well there won’t be any markdowns.

“But Shirt, it’s only PT,” doesn’t seem to fit, does it?

More often than not, a closed door mentorship session on holding our Airmen accountable for their actions across the unit is all it will take to get a supervisor to realize that a mark down is the right thing to do.

It’s not a career killer, the Airman can recover, and at this point and time they are not truly among the best.

Moreover, first sergeants are in the business of taking care of people, not just the ones getting in trouble, but the shiny pennies as well. Not giving a deserving member a markdown is disrespectful to the folks that are taking care of business every single day. Unfortunately, there isn’t a cookie cutter approach to how leadership at any level will handle any given situation, but if we cherish our Air Force standards and hold people accountable for their actions, everyone will be taken care of in the end.

Photo: (U.S. Air Force graphi by Senior Airman Jarad A. Denton)

Air Force core values should extend into our personal lives, Sept. 12, 2012

 

Air Force logo - white

By Lt. Col. Thomas J. O’Connell Jr.
4th Airlift Squadron commander

The Air Force core values of integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all we do provide excellent guideposts on how to conduct our professional military lives. Because they are so closely associated with the Air Force, their application often stops there. In actuality, they are great guides for our personal lives as well.

This perceived limitation was highlighted to me a few weeks ago when I had the honor and privilege to address the Julius A. Kolb Airman Leadership School Class 12-F. During the discussion I used a quote from Abraham Lincoln, “Whatever you are, be a good one.”

The majority of those in the room were not only Airmen, but leaders of Airmen. My point was to challenge the recent graduates, who are now leaders of Airmen, to be good ones. The message was not unique; in fact it is encapsulated in our core value of excellence in all we do.

Afterward, I was approached by Airmen, civilians and retirees who said they really liked the “whatever you are, be a good one” part of the talk. In particular, one Airman who had recently separated from the Air Force was worried about how she would adjust to being a full-time mother.

She said Lincoln’s quote inspired her to be a better mom. Whereas before she was driven to be the best Airman she could be, now she would redirect that energy at being the best mother she could be.

The theme of excellence was obviously not new to her, but by discussing it in its earlier form by Lincoln, the message actually resonated with a larger audience.

While the opportunity to bring Lincoln’s words to the audience was rewarding, it highlighted to me that the core values concepts have become so closely associated with the Air Force that somehow people perceive them as a “military thing” when their usefulness is much wider.

So, if you’re an Airman, I encourage you to continue to live and internalize the core values. If you’re a retiree, a spouse or a civilian, I encourage you to do the same, but if Lincoln’s words have more resonance, then use them instead.

Whatever you are, be a good one!

Resiliency, hard work pay off for fitness test, Aug 15, 2012

 

Master Sgt. Michele Smith

By Master Sgt. Michele Smith
Readiness Management Group

These past two years have been an emotional as well as physical journey for me. In June 2011, I failed my PT Test for the first time in my Air Force career. The next month I was diagnosed with two cerebral aneurysms – one in the middle of my brain and the other on my left side. The one on the left side was too small and not considered in danger of bursting; however, the one in the middle was at a size that the neurologist recommended surgery to repair it before ruptured. I went in for surgery on October 2011. I don’t remember anything after I told my sisters, “I will see you when I wake up,” as they wheeled me into the operating room. The doctors said the surgery went well; however, shortly after being in the recovery room the nurse noticed that I could not talk or move my right side. I was having a stroke. They immediately took me back into surgery and broke up the clot in my brain that was causing the stroke. I truly believe without the prayers of my family, friends and co-workers, I would not be here today. GOD gave me a new lease on life.

Well, after being in intensive care for five days and convalescent leave for close to eight weeks, I returned to work. In January 2012, the doctors cleared me to resume my exercise regimen. So, for the next month and a half I went back to my normal routine and exercised at least three times a week, even though I was still scared that the coils in my brain might come out. At that time, I felt very confident that I would pass. In March, I felt like an utter failure; I failed my PT test again. I felt defeated. I had just overcome a major obstacle in my life, felt like I was back on track, and then experience a setback by failing again.

Both my fitness monitor and my supervisor rallied behind me and kept encouraging me not to give up. I enrolled in a fit-to-fight class on base and a boot camp class in the local community. With help and encouragement, I stayed focused. I watched what I ate and exercised regularly five days a week. It has been a long three months. My age and metabolism were working against me and it felt like an uphill battle. My test date was upon me before I knew it and I was extremely nervous to say the least. The highest that I had ever scored on the test was an 89.50. Well…….I did awesome! I got a 99.30. I maxed out everything, except for my run. I was elated and overjoyed! I felt like I had overcome something that I did not think or feel that I could bounce back from. Without the support of family and friends and sheer determination, I would have given up and failed a third time. It wasn’t an option though.

Although I passed the test and do not have to take it for another year, I have maintained a healthy lifestyle by eating right and exercising regularly. It feels good to be alive and healthy!

Photo: Master Sgt. Michele Smith, unit training manager for the Readiness Management Group at Air Force Reserve Command, Robins Air Force Base, Ga., conducts strength-training with weights in an effort to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Smith was diagnosed with two cerebral aneurysms last year after failing her fitness test. After surgery, Smith changed her fitness regimen and passed her PT test. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Megan Tomkins)

U.S. Airman competes in 2012 Olympics

 

Weston “Seth” Kelsey fencingBy Airman 1st Class Krystal Tomlin
Air Force Public Affairs Agency

Today is the opening day of the 2012 Olympics. It’s a big day for many athletes from around the world as they step onto an international stage to represent the excellence of their home nations. We wish the best to all the participants, but one in particular has a special cheer from the U.S. Air Force.

Weston “Seth” Kelsey is one of Team USA’s all-time most accomplished epee fencers, according to his Team USA bio. He’s also a U.S. Airman. As a captain with the 310th Force Support Squadron, Kelsey is not only representing America as a nation; he is representing the Air Force and the U.S. military.

“It’s awesome, I really like the Air Force and all the people that I work with,” Kelsey said. “I feel honored that I get to represent them. It’s that core value of excellence. It’s also a lot of pressure on the other hand. I have to bring my best game on the day that I compete because I know everyone’s going to be there watching and supporting me.”
Good luck to you, Captain. We’ll be cheering for you.

Contributions to this story were made by Senior Airman Elisa Labbe of 460th Space Wing Public Affairs.

Photo: Weston Kelsey, right, fences U.S. Olympic Training Center teammate Jimmy Moody on June 8, 2012. Kelsey, a former U.S. Air Force Academy fencer and now three-time Olympian, has been fencing for approximately 20 years. Kelsey is an Air Force captain with the 310th Force Support Squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Kathrine McDowell)

Strengthening our core

 

 Integrity, Service, ExcellenceBy Col. Jim Dryjanski
National War College

The greatest threat to the United States Air Force right now is not external. It is from within. The allegations of sexual misconduct at Lackland Air Force Base splashed across the news will undoubtedly be fully investigated and criminal behavior will be prosecuted appropriately.

The victims will be heard and they will be cared for, but the bell cannot be unrung. The reverberations from “Jerry Springer-esque” moral failure can shake public trust.

Senior leaders of our Air Force and the Department of Defense will look deeply, far beyond the current trial, to see if there are any institutional root causes in climate, leadership, training and oversight that need to be addressed.

We can expect some necessary actions to be taken, but will disciplinary action or the implementation of recommendations from various independent top-down strategic reviews be sufficient? Probably not, if we as Airmen don’t recognize the moral battle being waged or fail to act from the grassroots-level to strengthen our core. The stakes are incredibly high–so should be our attention and urgency.

Lackland Air Force Base is known as the “Gateway to the Air Force.” Every enlisted trainee must pass through this training crucible in order to earn the title of “Airman.” The center of our identity as Airmen is found in our core values: Integrity first, Service before Self, and Excellence in all we do. Every Airmen can spout these core values…Integrity, Service, Excellence are easy to remember and easy to say, just as former Chief of Staff of the Air Force, General Fogleman designed them. So what’s the problem?

The words Integrity, Service, and Excellence are ubiquitous in our Air Force. Like the sound of a dripping faucet they can fade into the background over time. They are on power point slides, on wall-hangings in various offices, and they are all over the social media outlets of our Service. But, are they only words? Only words to be recited in speeches by commanders and enlisted leaders? Only words to be cited by those very same leaders when an Airmen breaks a rule or regulation?

Yes, they are…if we let them be. If we lose sight of the moral truth that our core values are grounded in, these mere words of Integrity, Service, and Excellence lose their true meaning and true power.

Sunshine is often the best antiseptic. Increasing transparency of our training and strengthening the accountability of our instructors at Basic Military Training in this light will help. But, more broadly, all Airmen in our Air Force should use this opportunity to illuminate why our Core Values are much more than mere words.

Let’s be clear about one thing, the vast majority of our Airmen–like their joint brothers and sisters in arms, are honorably serving our nation at a very critical time in our history. They are among the very best our nation has to offer, and they are making the extraordinary look ordinary around the globe every single day. That said, no Airman is exempt from the temptation in life to do the easier wrong, rather than the harder right. We must be prepared to win this battle every single day..

It is up to Airmen–wingmen, leaders, warriors to calibrate our moral compasses to true north and give life to our Core Values where the rubber meets the road during our toughest times.. Lou Holtz, former head football coach at Notre Dame, had a great way of boiling complex ideas down to their essence. He has said there are three questions people have when they meet you.

Can I trust you?
Do you care about me?
Are you committed to excellence?

If “yes” is the answer to those questions, people want you on their team. How do you get to “yes?” Holtz has three rules to live by.

Do the right thing.
Care about people.
Do your best.

Simple and profound rules to live by and strengthen our core and our team: Integrity First, Service before Self, and Excellence in all we do.

Aim High…Fly, Fight and Win!

Photos: The Air Force core values are integrity first, service before self and excellence in all we do.  (U.S. Air Force graphic by Senior Airman Benjamin Stratton)