Air Force core values: Airmen must live them

  • Published
  • By Ms. Jennifer Thibault
  • Air Force Space Command Public Affairs

Before going to any theme park or water ride extravaganza one usually checks to see how much it costs to get in. How many Airmen checked to see how much it cost to join the Air Force? 

Sure most checked to see what the salary would be, maybe even what kind of education and health benefits are provided, but how many checked to see the price of one ticket to ride this adventure called the Air Force?

Upon entering the Air Force, Airmen are taught right from the start the entry fee. The core values -- integrity first, service before self and excellence in all we do -- tell us the price of admission in to the Air Force, according to Air Force Core Values, Jan. 1, 1997, also called The Little Blue Book.

These three concepts are the price Airmen must be willing to pay upon taking the oath of enlistment or the oath of office. These values spell out exactly what is expected of Airmen every day they serve. They are no short order; in fact they can be quite difficult to pay at times.

These three concepts were not established just to challenge Airmen. They were established to unite all members of the Air Force family to a common theme, according to The Little Blue Book.

These values are more than expectations or a cause to rally behind. They are foundational tools provided to guide Airmen through everyday situations, decisions and challenges. They enable leaders to make the right choice at the right time for the right reasons.

Because these values start from on high, many may think they are only applicable to big-picture decisions. They may not think the core values have any bearing on day-to-day work in the "real" Air Force.

Air Force Space Command's senior enlisted leader would say otherwise.

"The core values cut across all dimensions of everything we do, whether it's strategic application of airpower, operational prosecution of the battlefieldor tactical execution of an invididual mission set," said Chief Master Sgt. Todd Small, the AFSPC command chief.

A recent example of strategic application of the core values has occurred at the highest levels of the Air Force. Two of the most senior Air Force leaders resigned after a couple of serious mistakes involving nuclear weapons sounded an alarm that warned of a breakdown of the Air Force's ability to appropriately manage and operate the nation's strategic deterrence.

Fortunately, the Air Force has a means to get back on course -- the core values. According to The Little Blue Book, the core values "serve as beacons vectoring us back to the path of professional conduct; the core values allow us to transform a climate of corrosion into a climate of ethical commitment." To repair the damage done and return the faith the nation has in the Air Force's ability to operate and maintain the nuclear enterprise, senior leaders are refocusing the force with their core-values lens.

First they are applying excellence in all we do, and then some, by enforcing perfection as the standard for nuclear operations. Some may say that is out of reach, but discussions with AFSPC senior leaders define perfection as, "doing what we're supposed to the way we're supposed to every single time ... that is operationalizing the concept of excellence," the chief said.

They also made some hard decisions with service before self in mind. Some very senior Air Force leaders were held accountable for actions of those under their leadership. Other Air Force servicemembers were given administrative actions. Although these people individually had good performance records; they did play a role in the errors. In those roles, they failed to keep the force on track, and so, for the good of the service as a whole, they were held accountable.

"Done right, it's hard," Chief Small said. "The service takes precedence. It's not easy; it's difficult."

Airmen face difficult decisions that enable the use of the core values on a more tactical level. An Airman puts the service first when accepting an assignment or temporary duty that takes him or her away from family. Airmen exercise excellence when they continue to improve their physical fitness and readiness. Integrity keeps certifiers from just signing a subordinate's training record without actually verifying the training. These everyday exercises provide Airmen the opportunity to warm up their application of the core values for later use in more strategic-level arenas.

It may still be hard for some to see the core values as anything more than lofty ideals. It may be even harder for some to find situations throughout their typical day to apply the core values.

For Airmen, this shouldn't be the case. "(Core values) are the core to who we are and they enable us to do the things we do," the chief said. "They are center mass on everything we do."

The core values provide the basis upon which every leadership decision is made in an Airman's daily life, even if he doesn't notice it. Not only are Airmen applying the core values in many of their daily decisions, their decisions typically call upon more than one core value for making the most appropriate decision.

For example, when an Airman chooses to exercise checklist discipline after a supervisor has left the room, he is demonstrating at least two of the core values. Integrity First, "is the willingness to do what is right even when no one is looking," as stated in The Little Blue Book. He is also exemplifying service before self by following the governing guidance set forth by the Air Force and other Department of Defense agencies regardless of what his personal preference may be.

The examples of this are also found off base, as the core values are boundless and timeless, they are not restricted to any one location or scenario, Chief Small said.

Integrity first is played out regularly in homes across the nation as Airmen teach their children to do the right thing even when mom and dad are not watching. Parents also reiterate excellence in all we do when encouraging children to do their very best in school, to put forth their best effort every day and on every assignment.

Incorporating the core values into one's home life will personalize the core values. It will make the application of the core values second nature and therefore more readily called upon in even more situations.

Even if one can understand the application of the core values some may not notice the backup the core values can provide. They may not be able to see the peace of mind the core values can generate.

Leaders are responsible for developing an atmosphere that "inspires trust, teamwork, quality and pride," according to Air Force Pamphlet 36-2241, Promotion Fitness Examination Study Guide. Leaders must take risks according to the guide, but these risks may be less scary if one relies on the core values.

"The core values are our aim points and our guide posts along the way to make sure we're doing the right thing for the right reasons," the chief said.

If an Airman is applying the core values to his decision making, he will be able to demonstrate the propriety of each decision with the backup of the core values. In the previous example of the nuclear enterprise decisions, knowing that these hard decisions were based on service before self puts it into perspective that Airmen more readily accept.

The same holds true for the Airman going on temporary duty although he will miss his family. His family, who also accept and understand the Air Force core values, know that the service has to come before the family and they too are more able to deal with the decision.

As with life in general, the Air Force is constantly changing and evolving. With each new day, Airmen face new situations, new issues and challenges. Airmen operate in different locations, different units and different environments. The Air Force's core values provide stability. "They point to what is universal and unchanging in the profession of arms," according to The Little Blue Book.

All Airmen, all leaders need to take a new look at the core values. Discover new ways to apply them in both professional and personal arenas. Airmen must make the core values personal; Airmen must live them.