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)