Caring isn't free

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Samuel Chesnut
  • 384th Air Refueling Squadron commander
I read an article a few years ago from the Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force that talked about service to others and how much it costs an individual to give of themselves.

He wrote about material possessions and how our society places value on them based on cost. The main point of his article was that while giving tangible items to another person costs money, caring for another individual doesn't cost a cent. Hence the title of his article, "Caring is Free."

What does it mean
Care as a verb is defined as "to be concerned; to have regard or thought." As a noun, it's defined as "serious attention, heed, caution" or "protection, charge." I'd like to offer another perspective on this topic. While I agree that caring technically might not require a monetary cost, it's potentially the most expensive form of giving an individual can provide. To care about your wingman means you assume protection or charge over him/her. To care about your job means you pay serious attention to your work or you exercise due caution to tasks and the mission. Caring for your family usually means a combination of attention, caution, protection and charge. True caring takes involvement, dedication and an investment that can be difficult to measure in dollars and cents.

The cost of caring
How much do you have to care to drop a few dollars in the red bucket for the Salvation Army? How much do you have to care to volunteer your time for a weekend event setup? How do you measure the cost of caring about your job or the mission? Do you measure it in money spent, time spent away from your family, long hours at work? How much does your family care about you to allow you to deploy for 120, 180 or 365 days and yet still take care of business at home? I contend that you cannot assign a dollar amount to most of these, but that doesn't mean they're free.

Why does it matter
Anyone can not care. It's easy to not deal with a problem or not take time to find out how people are doing. Less effort makes your life simpler -- for a while. Not caring comes with a price too, but usually that price is paid down the road. KC-135 aircraft that are not maintained or operated with care will eventually require a cost, in dollars, in parts, in time/effort, in lives or in careers. Every Air Force job carries a cost with it for not caring. We usually call that a penalty and it's something we strive to avoid.

Caring is hard
The Air Force is full of examples of caring in all career fields, at every base, at every deployed location. Airmen, working together and caring about each other and their jobs, getting it done despite increased operations tempo and increasing additional duties. It can be difficult to pay serious attention to a task from start to finish, day in and day out. It can be a challenge to take charge or ownership of something long enough to see it through, but that's what it takes in today's Air Force.

How easy would it be to tell your Wingman he's had enough to drink and take the keys from him? How easy is it to tell your subordinate that he/she is performing below par? How easy is it to engage your folks and get them involved in group/wing activities? How easy is it to position your people to win awards, encourage their personal education and advance their careers?

Each of these can be a challenge because each takes thought, determination, action, risk and dedication (which is not a small investment for you). Think for a minute about the potential costs of not caring enough to act and follow-through on each of these actions.

There are hundreds of opportunities and thousands of things for each of us to care about each day, and it's not practical for us to care about all of them equally. Find the ones that mean the most to you, or should mean the most to you and go after them. I think you'll find that a little caring on everyone's part makes life easier for us all.