'Airman Culture:' Lifelong Lessons

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. James Morris
  • 86th Airlift Wing command chief
Often in our day-to-day communications, we hear about the "Airman Culture" and how we should embody it.

But what does that mean exactly and how do we develop it? The withdrawal of combat forces from Iraq and the drawdown in Afghanistan signal the beginning of a new chapter for America. It is vital that we maintain a force capable of deterring conflict, a force capable of projecting power and a force capable of winning wars.

With this in mind, Air Force Doctrine Document 1-1, Leadership and Force Development lays out Airman Culture nicely into four categories: Ethical Leadership, Followership, Warrior Ethos and Develops Self.

In the first category, "Ethical Leadership," we are charged to promote the Air Force core values of "Integrity First, Service Before Self, and Excellence In All We Do," through the goals we set, actions we take and our referent behaviors.

Through our words and actions we develop trust and commitment from those we work with, all the while being accountable for our areas of responsibility, operations of our units and our personal actions.

In conjunction with our fellow Wingmen, we maintain a system of checks and balances on ourselves and others by always ensuring everyone is physically, socially, mentally and spiritually fit. This last part is especially important as we wind down our operations in Afghanistan and reconstitute our force.

The "Followership" category of the Airman Culture highlights the necessity for everyone to comprehend and value the role that followership plays in successful mission accomplishment.
This can best be accomplished by understanding how each task contributes to the success of the squadron, group and wing's mission and vision statements.

We should continuously seek to understand the messages articulated through command guidance and leadership so that we can align our priorities and actions with those of the organizations we belong to.

Reading the speeches frequently posted on the Air Force Portal by our Secretary of the Air Force, Chief of Staff of the Air Force and Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force can also help here.

We should always remain flexible so that we can adapt quickly to the alternating roles of leader/follower; always a follower first while taking the role of leader at times.

By developing a "Warrior Ethos," we exhibit a hardiness of spirit despite the physical and mental hardships of frequent deployments and long hours. Through frequent exercises, this moral and physical courage continues to grow as we hone our skills to support the employment of military capabilities. It is also important to develop expertise in foreign languages, as well as the regional and culture skills of the countries we operate in.

By doing this we enable ourselves to make sound, effective choices without inadvertently insulting our hosts; the latter of which could prove catastrophic when operating in areas with uncertain security situations.

This effort culminates in an Airman who possesses the military/executive bearing, self-discipline and self-control that make the people of our Air Force the consummate professionals that we are. Finally, "Develops Self" encourages us to assess our strengths and developmental needs.

We must seek feedback and incorporate it into our performance, always aware of the personal impact we have on others. Earning a degree through off-duty civilian education institutions, attending Professional Military Education schools, reading the books on the Chief of Staff of the Air Force reading list and studying Air Force and Joint Doctrines are essential.

Also, many specialties require certifications and licenses to prove a certain degree of competence and proficiency so obtaining them and maintaining their currency is incredibly important to a successful career.

We must strive to increase the breadth and depth of our knowledge and skills; developing life-long learning habits along the way that make us more agile, flexible, ready and technologically advanced.

In conclusion, by embodying the Airman Culture, we develop in ourselves a level of ethical behavior based on Air Force Core Values, always doing what is right. Attentive listening to what our leaders are saying improves our followership skills; heightening our ability to align our priorities and actions with those of the organization and increasing our effectiveness along the way.

Through base-level exercises and the study of language and cultures, we hone a warrior ethos. This hardiness of spirit toughens our physical and mental being, culminating in a military/executive bearing, self-discipline and self-control that makes us the consummate professionals that we are.

Finally, off-duty civilian education and attendance in Professional Military schools helps to develop ourselves by increasing the breadth and depth of our knowledge through life-long learning habits.

Sources: Air Force Doctrine Document 1-1, Leadership and Force Development. November 8, 2011. LeMay Center. Accessed at: http://www.e-publishing.af.mil/shared/media/epubs/AFDD1-1.pdf. United States Air Force Posture Statement 2012. February 28, 2012. Department of the Air Force Presentation to the Committee on Armed Services United States House of Representatives. Accessed at: http://www.posturestatement.af.mil/shared/media/document/AFD-120321-055.pdf.