Everything I know about being an Airman I learned in high school

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Eric Yates
  • 554th RED HORSE Squadron commander
This is an homage to an Army noncommissioned officer (or noncom as they were called back then). Sergeant 1st Class Lyvon Edgar (a retired Korean War veteran) was the coach of my high school Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps drill team. During my senior year we went undefeated in six competitions, culminating with the Southeast Region Championship at Ft Benning, Ga. We reached this level of excellence because of his daily inspiration. His homespun philosophy and high expectations created a framework for success. He knew the combination of honesty, dedication, sacrifice and precision execution was the only recipe for winning; never realizing he was imparting the same core values common to all Airmen. 

Integrity First -- When we practiced or performed, our intricate formations required near perfect timing. Needless to say, we had our share of mistakes. Every day, someone would turn left instead of right. SFC Edgar had one rule. If you make a mistake, you drop and give fifty push ups. Woe be unto the guy who made a mistake and didn't drop for the push ups. SFC Edgar would immediately yell out, "What's the matter son, don't you have integrity?!" He expected us to police ourselves, take responsibility for our actions and not-hesitate to take self-corrective action. He emphasized to never assume "no one is looking". We learned that integrity is the foundation for success. 

Service Before Self -- Besides marching around in formation while carrying rifles, we were expected to know military history, the chain of command, weapons data, etc. During competition open ranks inspections, we were expected to repeat this information without hesitation. I can still remember the nomenclature for my weapon (...Springfield 1903, 30-caliber, bolt action, breech loading, magazine fed, shoulder fired weapon weighing 8.69 lbs...). To prepare us, SFC Edgar conducted daily inspections where he would ask the questions. If we hesitated or gave the wrong answer, he would say, "What's the matter son, don't you love your country?" What I believe he was saying was that serving your country is a grave and serious undertaking and any information (regardless of how trivial it appears) used in that service is worth knowing. To assume we know what is important and what is not, is to put our own opinions above those of the chain of command above us. We learned that selfless service is the motivation for success. 

Excellence in All We Do -- SFC Edgar wanted us to know that success comes from hard work, perseverance, and a desire for excellence. However, this philosophy didn't stay on the drill field. He insisted that each member of the team keep an A/B class average in school, believing that the same discipline needed to make good grades would spill over to our performance. SFC Edgar warned us to never be a "one trick pony" and to always reach for "well rounded expertise". We learned that excellence is the final ingredient for success.

I'm certain if every Airman reflects on their personal history, they'll find their own SFC Edgar. They'll see that someone in their life instilled integrity, service, and the passion for excellence. Because, after all, the Air Force Core Values are not some trendy catch phrases that we learned after joining up, they are the price of admission to the Air Force itself.