"Reviewing Our Core Values"

  • Published
  • By Col. Randy Kaufman
  • 36th Operations Group

Last year while at a commander's conference, I had the opportunity to listen to a speech from Lt. Gen. David Fadok, Commander and President of Air University, , and he explained his "values." This prompted me to take a hard look at what I felt was important to me and as a result I put together some thoughts to try and communicate how and what I expected of myself and the Airmen I have the privilege to command.

First, I believe the Air Force got it right when we developed our Core Values:
     · Integrity First
     · Service before Self
     · Excellence in All We Do

You can't get any simpler than this, but interestingly enough, only the United States Air Force mentions integrity as a core value. In my opinion, this is the cornerstone to being an effective and contributing member of our armed forces. Additionally, during my review I came up with a few thoughts about our Core Values that I think are important:

Integrity First:
     · If it's the right thing to do, it's the right thing to do no matter how hard it may be. I tell 
       my Airmen this all the time. If you think doing the right thing is too hard, get over it and
       do what you know is right.
          o The little things matter. Whether it's running up Bonins Avenue when we 
              have a running track two yards to your right or running with both ear buds in; it 
              matters. Sometimes I hear "well nobody really cares," but once you start down 
              this slippery slope of determining what matters, where does it stop? Usually with
              a mishap or an accident.
          o Standards exist for a reason. Early in my career I was stationed at Fairchild Air 
             Force Base when we lost a B-52 because the pilot didn't follow the rules. What 
             was extremely unfortunate is that many people in leadership knew that he wasn't 
             following the rules, but let it go because the way he flew was "cool." This relates 
            directly to my point above, once you say that a rule or a standard doesn't matter, 
            where does it stop? The loss of four Airmen in this case.
         o Trust is the foundation of our service. If you don't trust the person working next to 
            you, how can you ever develop a solid working relationship?

Service before self:
     · "No" is self-serving and a lazy cop out. If another Airman asks you for help, your 
        answer should not be "no" but at a minimum should be, I'm not certain if we can do
        that, but let me look into it and get back with you. 

            o The Air Force is a Team Sport. It takes every single Airman to make the mission 
                happen and it doesn't matter how far away you work from the flightline, your  
                contribution matters whether you provide meals, turn wrenches or process ID 
                cards. All these efforts come together to make the mission succeed.
           o Train and mentor. Our primary mission as commanders and supervisors is to 
                train and mentor our Airmen. We have a duty and obligation to ensure that the 
               mission will continue in spite of deployments, PCS's, leave or any other reason. 
           o  You are not irreplaceable. I was once told that cemeteries are full of     
               irreplaceable people. Think back to December 18-29, 1972 during Operation  
               Linebacker II. Andersen AFB flew 729 B-52 combat sorties and lost 15 aircraft 
               and 33 Airmen. Their loss facilitated the end of operations in Vietnam and led to 
               the repatriation of 591 American Prisoners of War. While their sacrifice was the 
               ultimate in what we can ask, the mission continued. As much as it may hurt our
               personal pride, we are not irreplaceable.

Excellence in all we do:
        · We've always done it this way. This is my favorite pet peeve. 90 percent of the time 
          when I ask one of my Airmen to find out why we do it this way they come back and 
          tell me the requirement no longer applies because the AFI was changed.
           o Ask questions, question the status quo. Every new Airman in the United States 
              Air Force brings a new perspective and sometimes these perspectives generate 
              questions that allow us to improve and progress. We no longer fly with the high
              tech 1941 Norden Bombsight, but now have incredibly precise GPS and laser 
              guided weapons. These were developed because we have smart Airmen who 
              challenged the status quo.
           o Identify and improve processes. If something doesn't make sense, ask 
              questions and see if there is a smarter way of doing business. The Air Force
              today is about half what it was when I joined in 1988 and we don't have the 
              luxury of spending excess time doing things that could be accomplished more 
           o Embrace new ideas and technologies. The world is changing and according to 
              many technology experts, computer power has increased exponentially since we 
              first started producing computer chips (Moore's law if you care to look it up). If 
              you can find a new technology or process that allows us to do something 
              quicker or with fewer hours, push it to your supervisors.
Now that I've talked about our Core Values, let me expand on a few other 
"enablers" that I think directly support the accomplishment of our mission.
Empower Airmen to succeed
        · If you love what you do, you never have to go to work. I saw this quote years ago
          and it spoke volumes to me. Since we spend a third, if not more of our time 
          accomplishing our military duties, we should try and make our duties fun. No one 
          should wake up in the morning dreading coming to work.

          o Take care of Airmen and their families. This should be the first priority to all 
              commanders and supervisors. We need to know our Airmen and their families, 
              and each commander or supervisor should know where their subordinates are 
              with respect to upgrade training and whether they have family or other issues 
              that detract from their ability to accomplish the mission. Take time to get to know 
              your Airmen, it will pay huge dividends.
          o Remove unnecessary distractions. I tell my commanders that one of my 
             objectives is to filter and complete things that don't require their involvement. 
             Sometimes this means I work slightly longer hours, but my goal is to eliminate 
             unnecessary distractions that detract from their ability to focus on their primary
          o Treat your SMEs as the subject matter experts they are. Ok, I may be the 
            commander, but I will never be the best weather forecaster, airfield ops manager, 
            tower controller, Aircrew Flight Equipment specialist or Intelligence expert, but I 
            understand that, and when questions arise, I ask my SMEs and trust their 

Leadership matters
         · With great power comes great responsibility. Okay it's a quote from Spiderman, 
           but it's true. As commanders and supervisors we need to understand that with our
           position comes great responsibility and our Airmen look up to us.
           o Leadership by walking around. I am a firm believer that I normally won't get the
              complete answer during staff meetings because no one wants to air their dirty 
              laundry in front of their peers. This means that it's imperative that I get out from 
             behind my desk and find out what issues my Airmen are dealing with. You can't
             command from behind a desk.
          o Praise in public, critique in private. Seldom does any good come from criticizing
             Airmen in front of their peers, but there is incredible goodness recognizing them 
             in their work center. 
          o Allow your Airmen to make mistakes. Most people learn more from making their
             own mistakes and then fixing them. The challenge for commanders and 
             supervisors is identifying those tasks where we can allow our Airmen to stumble.

Not every task is a "no fail", and if it's not a "no fail" let them stumble and learn, they will become better commanders and NCOs in the future.

Communication is key
        · Be careful what you ask for, you might get exactly that. I learned this lesson early in 
          my career when I asked my student pilot to do something and he did exactly what I
          asked, only it wasn't what I thought I'd asked. Words matter.

          o Communicate expectations not solutions. Our Airmen are extremely smart and
              I'm constantly amazed with their ingenuity when I allow them to solve the 
              problem themselves. 
          o Relationships matter. Getting out from behind your desk and actually going to 
              someone else's workspace to meet them pays huge dividends. If you have a 
              relationship with the person you're working with, and not just by phone or email,
              it's amazing what you can accomplish.
          o Communication is a two-way process. Communication is an art and to effectively 
             communicate you have to be willing to not only talk but listen. You will be 
             astounded at what you can learn if you only listen.

When I took a step back and really looked at what I thought was important, these are the issues that I felt mattered and could do the most to ensure my Airmen succeeded. I hope that these thoughts will assist commanders and supervisors as they go about trying to lead the Airmen of our new Air Force. Our Airmen today are different than when I entered, smarter and better able to multi task, but I think the basic principle of treating each other with respect and allowing people to make mistakes, when possible, still apply. Trust your Airmen to do the right thing, you will be surprised at what they can accomplish and how they will ensure we, and the United States Air Force rise to the challenges facing us.