Every Airman a Leader

  • Published
  • By Col. Robert Riegel
  • 460th Space Wing

“Every Airman a Leader.”  I firmly believe that.  Our service to our nation requires the habit of excellence.  Each of us must strive to be better today than we were yesterday.  We must be prepared to act without waiting for direction; to lead from where we stand.

Twenty-seven years ago, I was on a bus full of Airmen arriving at Keesler AFB, Mississippi, for technical training.  It was an exciting time for all of us.  Young and just starting out on our Air Force careers, we had nothing but opportunity in front of us. 

Newly graduated from Basic Military Training, we were now responsible for ourselves and were given added duties to help us grow into the Airmen the Air Force needed us to be.  Some of those duties were mundane.  Others required us to plan, organize, and motivate.  We had the tools we needed, the necessary authority, and the outcomes matched our efforts. 

You can imagine, then, how strange it was to hear some of my peers say, “I can’t do that. I’m only an Airman.”  My thinking then, as now, was “Why sell yourself short?  You’re not ‘only’ anything.  Take charge!” 

Since that August in 1990, our Air Force has been reduced in size by nearly half, while our obligations have increased dramatically.  Technology has enhanced our capabilities and helped us maintain our combat edge, but our Airmen are the real reason for our successes. 

Congress tells us, through law, how many Airmen we’re allowed to have.  Each of us are recruited, trained, and assigned to perform in specific roles.  We budget for every single billet.  Not one of us is extra; not one of us is here by accident.  We are not “only Airmen.”  We are Airmen with a purpose.

Our purpose is clear:  to exercise control of air, space, and cyberspace.  We do that through a variety of means, but it's always Airmen who do it.  All of us.  We work together to plan, rehearse, and execute our missions.  We analyze our performance and apply lessons learned so we constantly improve.  We make our technology and procedures work for us. 

What we do demands the very best we have to offer.  Without our best efforts, we are diminished in some very real way.  Take one of us out of the picture and see what happens.

Without timely contracting, we don’t have access to the fuels required to launch aircraft in a war zone.  Without skilled SBIRS operators and intelligence professionals, we lose the ability to provide crucial missile warning or defense.  Without expert tech control, our communications infrastructure is rendered vulnerable. 

Imagine a day without the Military Personnel Flight, or the Medical Group.  Without our pharmacy and lab technicians, we can’t keep our Defenders mission ready.  Imagine what would happen if our Civil Engineers took the week off.  What if our logisticians were absent?  Without them, installation readiness and power projection suffer. 

Every one of us adds strength to our units.  Every one of our units adds strength to our Air Force.  As an Air Force, we are an awesome and credible power.  You make that possible.

Your very presence serves as a deterrent to some, and as hope and comfort for others.  You do for your nation what the vast majority of others can’t or won’t do.  You perform at a high level because you’ve been trained.  You innovate because it makes us better.  You take care of your fellow Airmen because we all matter. 

You do these things because you are an Airman.  Sometimes you’re the only one there.  You are the difference between success and failure, victory and defeat, life and death.  You lead from where you stand because it’s your duty.  This we entrust to ‘only’ our best.