What happened to “us?”

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. John Cummings
  • 22nd Maintenance Squadron
Let’s be honest with ourselves—the majority of the Air Force is made up of technical career fields, whether that is a flight crew following a checklist, a maintainer or logistic readiness squadron Airmen completing equipment preventative maintenance inspection, or civil engineers maintaining real property.

This focus on “things” and “precise procedures” affects our culture, our organizations and how we treat each other. Our focus on developing pride within our own Air Force specialty codes, while admirable, can interfere with our ability to communicate and function well with others.

We often compare ourselves to professional sports and adopt that pride in ‘our team.” But what is the mission of your favorite team? Many will say to win a championship. To the owners, the mission of a professional sports team is profit! As leaders, we need to move ourselves away from an inward focus on the home team’s winning record towards our team is contributing to the league. In other words, are we team players in our squadron, group, wing and Air Force, or are we the showboating ball hog?

Many competing forces including budget constraints, manning cuts, organizational structure changes and 16 plus years of a demanding operations tempo have narrowed our focus on developing Airmen. Our Airmen work hard, and they have earned the time that they spend with their families and communities, but to become a better team and a better Air Force, we need to figure out how to work together more efficiently. This will give us the opportunity to return more well-earned time to our Airmen. So how do we improve our culture? It comes down to “walking a mile in another’s shoes.” Sometimes we need to literally do this we need to go experience how another work center functions, and we need to engrain this understanding and respect for other AFSCs in our upgrade training processes at an early point in development.

Think about how we train our new Airmen. We start by indoctrinating them with rules on where they live, how they dress and how to conduct themselves. As they move to their first assignment, we focus them on upgrade training and career development courses. We teach them to take pride in themselves, and we reward them by recognizing proficiency in their primary duties, but should we stop there, with just proficiency? How often do we take these Airmen to see their suppliers and customers and how they fit into the bigger mission?

Understanding other AFSCs and comprehending their importance to the bigger mission is key to developing respect for our teammates, and it opens the opportunity for further improvement and the possibility of returning valuable time to our Airmen.

Air Force senior leadership is looking to us to find the answers. The innovation necessary is not going to come from those “long in the tooth.” It will come from our newest Airmen. What we can teach are the tools of understanding, respect and communication beyond our own AFSCs and shops. Let’s give our Airmen the tools to see that the solutions will come from “us.”