"...do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic..."

"For the good of the Air Force, for the good of the armed services and for the good of our country, I urge you to reject convention and careerism..."
- Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Maxwell AFB, April 21, 2008

"You will need to challenge conventional wisdom and call things like you see them to subordinates and superiors alike."
- Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, United States Air Force Academy, March 4, 2011

Friday, March 14, 2014

SECAF Nailed It - Character is the Center of Gravity

Recently the Secretary of the Air Force emailed airmen the following:
To All Airmen,

Following is a very important message from General Welsh, CMSAF Cody and me regarding Core Values in our Air Force. I ask each of you to read it, internalize the message and rededicate yourself to our Air Force and our Core Values.


Deborah Lee James
To the Airmen of the United States Air Force:

Being an Airman is more than a job. When we voluntarily raised our right hands and took an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States, we became members of the profession of arms. Underpinning that profession is the sacred trust given to us by the American people. To meet their expectations, we must build our lives and shape our service on the foundation of our core values: Integrity First, Service Before Self and Excellence In All We Do. Throughout our history as a service, Airmen with tremendous moral courage have taught us there is no replacement for virtue, character, dignity and respect. Today’s Airmen—active, Guard, Reserve and civilian—must continue this tradition.

When Airmen fail to live up to our core values, the reputation of all who serve is tarnished. We must have the strength of character to do and say the right things at the right times, always with diplomacy, tact and respect. Being a wingman does not mean protecting those who lack integrity or fail to uphold the core values; it means not tolerating them. You are accountable not only for your actions, but also for failing to take action if you see bad behavior.

Today we challenge each and every Airman to reaffirm their commitment to our core values by finding new ways to live these values each and every day. This reaffirmation will strengthen the trust between Airmen, and our commitment to one another. It also reassures the American public we are worthy of their trust.

Thank you for representing the Air Force so well and exhibiting pride and courage in our service. If you have questions about our core values, please seek out guidance and assistance from people who can help: commanders, first sergeants, chaplains and inspectors general are available to provide counsel and advice. Because of who we are, and what we do, Integrity, Service and Excellence carry special meaning for all of us. Always remember that it is an honor to be called “Airman.” We must earn that honor, every day.

Deborah Lee James
Secretary of the Air Force

Mark A. Welsh III
General, USAF
Chief of Staff

James A. Cody
Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force

Emails can't magically fix organizational problems, nor should they be expected to.  But they can help, and this message is helpful, in so much as airmen trust that leadership means what it says.  That's a problem if airmen can't walk into an MPF without seeing dozens of "Integrity" and "Courage" posters on the wall, before witnessing their leadership act completely out of step with the hallway pictorials.

Deeds not words.  That is where the rubber meets the road, and certainly when it comes to displaying the courage and character the Secretary instructs us to remember is required to earn the honor of being public servants in our air service.  Anybody can talk a good bar game.  Principled action is required - and action in this department is very difficult and does not win friends.

Still, words are important, and our new Secretary has nailed the most important issue plaguing our service from top to bottom.  Character.  Some lament that our serious issues are a leadership problem, bristle that guidance like this comes from the top in such an imperfect organization, and point the finger at the top.  Their criticism isn't without merit.  But in my view, we have less a leadership problem and much more a followership problem in our service.  When those of us in the trenches do the right thing and act as professional public servants, regardless of any impact to our careers or convenience, then our organization will improve, and the next generation of leadership will be plucked from our ranks.  Be the Air Force you know the nation deserves.

So if you care about our service and our ability to make good on the investment the taxpayers provide, then take this email to heart and elevate your service.  Mentor your peers who advise you to "play the game."  Share with them that what we do is not a game, it's deadly serious and important.  It's a profession.  This email from the Secretary can help in that endeavor.  Pay particular attention to words used like courage, character, profession of arms, sacred trust, constitution, and honor.  

Then live it, regardless of what others around and above you do.  Service.

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