Tag Archives: respect

Every Airman Counts: Treating each other with dignity and respect

By Gen. Larry O. Spencer
Air Force Vice Chief of Staff
Gen. Larry Spencer, the Air Force vice chief of staff, encourages Airmen to get involved with “Every Airman Counts”. The initative is designed to foster communication between Airmen and senior leaders about sexual assault prevention and response.
When I was a young Airman, during the heat of an intense intramural flag football game, a fellow Airman, who was frustrated that he could not stop me from advancing the ball, yelled the “N” word out loud. I was shocked and confused. Having been raised in Southeast Washington, D.C., I was certainly no stranger to harsh language or “trash talk.” However, this was different, and it literally hurt. I thought I had left that type of behavior behind me. I was an American Airman, and I didn’t expect that kind of verbal attack from a fellow Airman.

You must understand that growing up as I did, I never heard terms like dignity, respect, integrity, service or excellence. I was not a bad person and my parents taught me to respect myself and others; however, this notion of devotion to a larger purpose, to institutional values, was new to me. The Air Force stood for something and I liked it. Those words meant I could always trust and depend on my fellow Airmen. But at that moment, on that field, those values had been violated, and I felt let down.

Standing in the bright lights that lit-up the football field, I was at a loss…Then something remarkable happened. Several Airmen, on both sides of the ball, spoke up — forcefully. They chastised the offender and made it clear they did not approve of his outbursts or attitude. The referee, who was an NCO, also stepped forward and not only ejected him from the game, but directed him to report to his first sergeant the following day. The next day, not only did my teammates (on both teams) go out of their way to apologize for this single Airman’s behavior, but the Airman who committed the act also personally apologized.

As an officer, some of the best experiences in my life have been the opportunities I’ve had to command. I especially enjoyed my squadron command because it was in the midst of Operation Desert Shield/Storm and my entire unit was singularly focused. That period was particularly taxing because in addition to my squadron commander duties, I was also responsible for making sure that Airmen deployed properly and airplane loading plans were followed precisely.

One busy night on the flightline, a young Airman approached me and said she was being harassed by several male Airmen. She went on to say that this wasn’t the first time the harassment had occurred and typically she would just “grin and bear it.” However, since we were literally preparing for war, she did not want to be distracted and just wanted the behavior to stop. Although she was not assigned to my squadron, we quickly and decisively dealt with those involved. Several months later I ran into the female Airman at the gym. I reminded her about her words, “grin and bear it,” and asked why she put up with that behavior without speaking out. She explained that she so badly wanted to be part of the squadron that she remained silent as not to “make waves.”

Her story bothered me a lot. For a young Airman to feel like she had to “go along to get along” by accepting behavior that was repulsive was unacceptable to me. We were part of a premiere Air Force fighter wing gearing-up for war. We had to trust each other and have each other’s back. In my way of thinking, treating each other with dignity and respect was a given—unfortunately, in her case it was not.

Dignity and respect are not just words. Merriam Webster defines dignity as “the quality or state of being worthy, honored, or esteemed;” and respect as “a feeling or understanding that someone or something is important and should be treated in an appropriate way.” We all want to be respected by others…both as human beings and as military professionals. During my career, I’ve witnessed Airmen treating others with disrespect and dishonor. As vice chief of staff, I cringe when I read reports of sexual assaults in our Air Force. I personally know the hurt of racially charged words, and I have seen and witnessed the hurt associated with victims of sexual assault. Airmen who act in this manner are not representative of the Air Force I serve, and I won’t tolerate it. Neither should you.

I know the vast majority of our Airmen don’t act that way. They understand the importance of fostering a culture of dignity and respect, and they live it every day. To those Airmen, I say thank you for living up to Air Force core values, and I ask you to join me in re-doubling our efforts to NOT TOLERATE those who don’t live up to those standards. Airmen don’t sexually harass or assault fellow Airmen (or anyone for that matter). Airmen don’t care about their fellow Airman’s race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation. We focus on character, commitment, professional competence and leadership. And, if we run into that small percentage of Airmen who violate those standards, we speak up and report that behavior to the appropriate officials.

For those who cannot or will not live up to Air Force standards, I offer a simple phrase: “shape up or ship out.” If we have members who won’t subscribe to integrity, service and excellence; we don’t want them.

We all signed up to be part of the best Air Force the world has ever seen. The Air Force didn’t become the best by accident. Dedicated, committed Airmen who live by our core values each and every day made it that way. You and I now have a sacred responsibility to not only keep us the best but to make the Air Force even greater. That’s a big responsibility, but it starts by treating everyone with dignity and respect and remembering that every Airman counts.

Photo: Gen. Larry Spencer, the Air Force vice chief of staff, encourages Airmen to get involved with “Every Airman Counts.” The initative is designed to foster communication between Airmen and senior leaders about sexual assault prevention and response.

Career knowledge, performance translate to relevance, respect

Chief Master Sgt. David Dock
50th Mission Support Group

I arrived at my first duty station in November 1987 as a trained and motivated KC-135 Stratotanker maintainer. I was an expert — or so I thought. On my first day on the job, I walked toward the expediter truck excited about the drive to the flightline. I was about to be dropped off near a multimillion dollar flying machine and I knew my crew chief would say, “This one is yours, make us proud!” Oh, how wrong I was.

“Sergeant Reality”, as we will call him, stopped me before I made two steps into the truck and said, “JEEP (which I learned much later stood for Just Enough Education to Pass), your job is to sit in the seat behind me in the truck. Do not speak. Read that bookshelf full of technical orders.” Sergeant Reality continued. “If the truck stops, you stand up – I might have some work for you to do. If I don’t, I will tell you to sit back down, and that means read more technical orders.”

“How could this be?” I thought. I was a trained maintenance machine. The Air Force spent truckloads of money making me an expert. This pattern with “Sergeant Reality” went on for a month. The truck would stop, I would stand, and Sergeant Reality would tell me to sit down and read. On occasion, I would serve as fire guard on a refuel or hook up a maintenance stand to the back of the truck, but most of my time was spent in silence, pouring over technical orders.

One cool morning, a few hours into my reading session, the truck stopped in front of an aircraft. I stood as instructed, waiting to be directed to take my seat. The crew chief from the aircraft informed the expediter he would need help and wanted an Airman to assist him. Sergeant Reality pointed past me to who we will call ‘Airman Lucky.’ “Airman,” he stated, “get out.” Sergeant Reality asked the crew chief what he needed help with. “My nose wheel tire has cord exposed and a flat spot on it, “he said. “It needs to be changed.”

Good judgment and a will to live immediately left me when I said, “Is it a 12-inch flat spot?” Sergeant Reality snapped around in his seat and screamed, “What did you say?” I replied “The technical order has a new change in it that allows a tire to have cord showing as long as the tire does not have a 12-inch flat spot.”

kc-135 crew chief

In a fit of rage, Sergeant Reality yelled “Give me the T.O.” I handed it to him, and he read the instructions. He looked at the crew chief and said “Well, does it?” The crew chief shook his head no. Sergeant Reality exclaimed, “Then the tire’s not bad, the T.O. changed.”

Sergeant Reality sat back in his seat, took a large breath, and said to the crew chief “Let me introduce you to your new assistant crew chief, Airman Dock. He knows the T.O.s better than you! Get out of my truck Dock!” As I climbed out of the truck Sergeant Reality pointed at Airman Lucky and barked, “JEEP, you have a new job.”

Every moment in your career will produce lessons. Although the events of my first month in the Air Force may seem harsh, they solidified in my mind what would make me successful. I needed to be relevant to the duties and positions I would hold. I needed to be respected for the knowledge and talents I brought to the fight. I needed to back those skills with performance. I needed to demonstrate that I was ready to replace someone who had moved on. Sergeant Reality brought me back down to Earth, and when I was prepared to be relevant, respected and could perform in the role needed, elevated me to that position.

Sergeant Reality instilled in me the idea that we’re not just working a job – we’re part of a much larger picture, we’re part of a professional career. As Airmen, we each have a valuable skillset we presumably worked and trained hard to learn. I’ve served in the Air Force for 26 years and I’m still learning – it’s a never ending process. Let’s all strive to perfect our skills as Airmen and ensure our abilities are commensurate with our rank and position. The U.S. is counting on us.

PHOTO: A crew chief with the 191st Aircraft Maintenance Squadron marshals a KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft toward the runway prior to a mission at Selfridge Air National Guard Base, Mich., Dec. 3, 2011. Crew chiefs perform and coordinate a wide variety of maintenance tasks and prepare the aircraft for flight. (U.S. Air Force photo by TSgt. David Kujawa)