Airman PES offers insight

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  • By Anonymous

How does the Air Force view Airmen who make mistakes? Does it push them out, or does it give them the tools to recover?

I put the question to the senior noncommissioned officers panel at the fall Airmen Professional Enhancement seminar on Ramstein.

U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Brandon Krueger answered first. It was encouraging to hear him talk about how he doesn’t believe failure isn’t fatal, especially at the junior Airman level. He didn’t pretend there aren’t things you can do to get kicked out on first offense (ep. drug dealing) but he does believe the Air Force is generally willing to work through lesser infractions.

One thing that stuck out to me is when Krueger discussed doing things as a junior Airman that weren’t necessarily the smartest, but that he was glad he made it out okay. If he’s anything like me, Krueger probably needed to be that hothead for a while to become the person he is today.

All three leaders on the panel agreed we are no longer a “one-mistake Air Force.” Every Airman has a different story, but I agree with the panel.

I’ve made my share of mistakes, and mistakes can snowball into more problems. People may spread rumors and even make up stories, causing stigma. Each time my colleagues and leadership changed, I’ve had to work hard to change the stigma -- the cocktail of truth and fiction -- that reached them before me.

Fortunately, I’ve also experienced the reverse; good work can also snowball. Solving problems, taking opportunities for self-development and producing good work leads to more opportunities for success.

Messing up, feeling my career threatened and disappointing people showed me my weaknesses and gave me the motivation to be better. Maybe one of the reasons we aren’t a one-mistake Air Force is that messing up can make us stronger.

I love being part of this Air Force, and I don’t want to lose it. I need the people I work with to know that I care about this job and its people. When everything looked bad for me, I had to prove that I was not a liability or a lost cause, but a dedicated, motivated and effective asset.

The Air Force is designed to help motivated Airmen succeed, including those who make mistakes. We are an organization made of flawed humans and the system allows for mistakes. Not all leaders make the best decisions and sometimes good Airmen are lost, but I do believe the system is designed to give Airmen as much chance to succeed as the Airmen are willing to give themselves.

I learned how to fight for my reputation in one simple way: by doing good things. I look for problems and try to solve them; find opportunities to train, produce more work than required; and mentor others at every opportunity.

Another way I achieve good things is by taking advantage of the resources available. Clubs such as the 1st Four and Huddle, as well as volunteer opportunities, mentorship programs, first sergeants, enhancement seminars and many others are designed to give Airmen tools for success.

The fall Airman Professional Enhancement Seminar I attended was a good opportunity that helped me. I extracted two important principles: take charge of yourself, and be a valuable resource to others. Energized, experienced professionals passed on advice and knowledge from their years of experience. We covered personal, professional and leadership development with topics like how to fully utilize supervisors, maximize savings investments, and set oneself apart for promotion. We had lots of opportunities to ask questions from men and women who are succeeding in their careers. They weren’t perfect either. The SNCO panel was not afraid to talk about mistakes they’d made, speaking about everything from alcohol-related incidents to leadership blunders.

I’ve received paperwork that almost made me give up. I didn’t think I had a chance to stay in the Air Force, and I didn’t even want to try. When I was at my lowest, I was surprised at how supportive and encouraging my leadership was. Not only did they not beat me down, they encouraged me to work hard and recover. Not everyone is as fortunate as I to have supportive leadership. Again, the Air Force is made of flawed humans. Yet, the system in place encourages mentorship and growth, not abandonment.

So how does the Air Force view Airmen who make mistakes? I don’t think there’s one answer. Some Airmen go too far, and they can’t recover. The Air Force is not right for everyone. Yet, for the majority of Airmen, there are a lot of opportunities.

As U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Frank Chiariello, also on the senior noncommissioned officer panel, said, “I think you should have an opportunity to fail -- fail forward -- and pick yourself up quick.”

I’m going to continue to fight to remain in the Air Force. I know I will have successful moments and times I fail… but I’ll air to fail forward when I do.