Viewpoint: Caring for our Airmen…it’s a Core Values thing
By Lt. Col. Shawn Fairhurst, 11th Space Warning Squadron commander
/ Published April 14, 2010
SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- For more than a decade, our Air Force has worked to instill the core values of integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all we do across every aspect of operations. They define the culture we all want to be a part of and set the standards we live by. However, it is the Airmen who live these core values that ensure the success of our Air Force. Each Airman is a critical piece to the foundation of our Air Force, and it is the job of each Airman, his supervisors and commanders to ensure that he is fully ready to perform our missions. This is often our largest failing as individuals and one of the hardest aspects of sound leadership.
Just as the Air Force's success is built upon the efforts of our Airmen, each Airman's foundation includes vital parts that ensure his readiness to meet the challenges of the Air Forces' mission head-on. This includes his mental, physical and spiritual well-being and the support structure that helps nourish him and hone his sharp edge. Individually, we should strive to balance the personal and professional sides of our lives. Physically, we need to ensure our well-being through exercise and diet, which helps us better deal with the stresses of an Air Force career. Mentally, each of us need to find outlets (school, church, hobbies, etc.) that help us maintain perspective. Spiritually, we all have questions that we need to explore as to who we are and why we are here. These are bound together by a support structure made up of our families, friends and our supervisors and commanders.
Everyone of us fails at some time or another in our ability to ensure we find the balance and take the time to nurture ourselves and the important relationships in our lives...this is where leadership must step in. Leaders at all levels should have an awareness of their Airmen, the stresses they are under and their individual well-being. It is essential that leaders ensure their Airmen have the opportunity to maintain a healthy balance in their personal and professional lives, otherwise the foundation of the individual Airmen becomes compromised. When faced with a conflict between their personal and professional commitments, Airmen often choose to take care of their professional requirements; however, if left unchecked, aspects in their personal lives begin to suffer. When this occurs, it causes a small compromise in the foundation of the Air Force's success.
Caring for your Airmen will require difficult choices. Leaders at all levels must ensure an environment exists that encourages a healthy balance. Commanders must empower mid-level supervisors, enabling them to be the first line of defense to help our Airmen maintain this critical balance. Leaders must constantly evaluate the status of the mission and their Airmen to ensure the stresses placed on them are necessary and within the Airmen's capability for success. To help achieve this balance, leaders must: set realistic expectations and suspenses; balance work load across the organization so as not to overstress our strongest performers and ensure Airmen have the opportunity to take time off.
In the end, it's about the core values. It's about Integrity...sometimes the mission must take a back-seat to an Airman's personnel needs. It's about Service before Self...if the Airman is not caring for himself, is not physically, mentally or spiritually ready or has allowed the vital support relationships in his life with his family, spouse, children, etc. to suffer, he is no longer able to fully commit to what the Air Force requires. It's about Excellence...an Airmen who is compromised, who fails to maintain balance will likely lack the necessary focus to deliver to the expected standard.
The Air Force is only as strong as the Airmen who carry the mission's success on their shoulders. As Airmen, we must all strive to ensure the health of each one of us, as individuals and as wingmen. Get to know your Airmen so you may recognize any changes in their behavior, an indicator that he is struggling. Ask questions of the member or their co-workers if you have a feeling that something may be wrong...and if you suspect something is wrong, take immediate action.
Leadership is about balance...the mission and caring for our most important asset, our Airmen. The Air Force depends on our Airmen and leaders, you must take a step back and take action to ensure the success of our Airmen, otherwise we all fail.
Capt. Jason McCandless contributed to this story.