I am an American Airman - I am a Warrior - I have answered my Nation's call

  • Published
  • By Maj. Thomas Smith
  • 460th Mission Support Squadron commander
My fellow Airmen, what would you do?

There are imposters among us. While few and far between, there are men and women among us who have taken the same oath and wear the same uniforms as we do, but do not take our oaths and values seriously. They see our standards as unreasonable - and thus something they can freely disregard so long as they don't get caught.

To be clear, I'm not talking about those of us who have at times felt we didn't measure up as well as we might. Air Force standards are high. They do -- and should -- challenge each of us every day. Falling short on occasion, admitting it to ourselves, and making a renewed personal commitment to do better in the future is an inevitable and honest part of becoming better warriors, leaders and Airmen. What I'm speaking of here is something altogether different.

There are those among us who use illegal drugs. Sometimes these are illicit drugs like marijuana or Ecstasy. Other times they are prescription drugs obtained and used illegally. There are those in our society who consider occasional, "responsible" recreational drug use acceptable. But tolerance of illegal drug use is not something we can ever accept as Airmen. It is a crime, but more importantly it is anathema to our values and way of life as Airmen.

There are also those among us who have unprofessional personal and/or sexual relationships with supervisors, subordinates or others forbidden by military law. They feel our rules are out of touch with the values of our society as a whole and thus are too restrictive. Certainly these kinds of relationships are not generally criminal in the larger society. But again, tolerance of inappropriate relationships is not something we can ever accept as Airmen. They disrupt the good order and discipline of our warrior force; raise questions of loyalty, fairness and trust in our ranks; and can even put lives at risk on the battlefield.

There are other examples I could give as well: There are those among us who steal, abuse their spouses, children or co-workers, and even those who sexually exploit others for their own satisfaction or profit. None of these people are Airmen -- they are imposters. Like all imposters, they are a threat to both those around them and to the institution they pretend to serve. As Airmen -- real Airmen -- we cannot tolerate these kinds of imposters.

Let me explain why.

I am an American Airman.
My mission is to fly, fight, and win.
I am faithful to a proud heritage,
A tradition of honor,
And a legacy of valor.

I am an American Airman.
Guardian of freedom and justice,
My nation's sword and shield,
Its sentry and avenger.
I defend my country with my life.

We are different. Each of us is inherently different from our fellow Americans. We have chosen to take an oath to defend our Constitution -- and everything it stands for -- with our very lives. We are, and should be, different -- better -- than those we're sworn to protect. It's why we wear a distinctive uniform and why we receive special status under many federal and state laws. It's who we are and what we are about. Whether you serve 30 years or a single enlistment, it makes no difference. You had the courage to take that oath and sacrifice for something bigger and more important than yourself. You are -- and always will be -- different than those who have never taken such an oath. You are an American Airman. Be proud of that difference. In times of trouble, those in our society who might tolerate the things above will look to you for guidance and protection. We are different. We should be different. We must never forget that.

I am an American Airman.
Wingman, leader, warrior.
I will never leave an Airman behind,
I will never falter,
And I will not fail.

Airmen show courage in many ways. Courage can sometimes be subtle. It can be as simple as having the strength to do the right thing even when off base and those around you may not share our values. To return to the earlier discussion of illegal drugs, at present drug use is more broadly accepted in our civilian society than it has ever been. It's only a matter of time until someone offers you drugs or attempts to use drugs in your presence. This may already have happened to many of you. What about a situation involving theft, fraud or inappropriate, exploitive or abusive relationships? Do you have the courage to say no? Do you have the courage to discourage others as well? Do you have the courage to report the incident? Do you have the courage to report an imposter? Do you have the courage to be different? Your fellow Airmen and your nation need you.

Decide now. If you haven't already done so, decide now what you are going to say when you are offered drugs, become aware of an inappropriate relationship or suspect abuse or theft. Your response needs to be automatic. Don't try to make that decision in the heat of the moment -- make it now. Make that decision a part of who and what you are. Most people will ultimately respect you for it. Those who don't, aren't Airmen. But Airmen or not, as I said before, they will still look to you for guidance and protection in times of trouble. They will recognize you as the real thing - a true American Airman.

What would General Henry "Hap" Arnold do? What would Sgt. John Levitow do?