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Professional Courage - timely actions make a difference

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Anthony Cruz-Munoz
  • 36th Contingency Response Group
Perception in a vacuum is reality!"...words of wisdom from Col. Murrell "Tip" F. Stinnette, my wing commander while assigned to Incirlik Air Base, Turkey. 

He went on to say that in the absence of facts, people will use whatever information they have and formulate their own reality. As the executive assistant to the wing command chief, I had the privilege of having a front seat view, where I watched his words match his actions, daily. 

I relate my experience to watching the movie, "We Were Soldiers" every single day. He was Mel Gibson playing Lt. Col. Hal Moore, teaching many leadership lessons, but there was never a "cut" from the director, and I'm quite sure he was not acting. Colonel Stinnette was that dynamic! The man had matchless energy, much of which he invested in the area of communication (replacing information vacuums with facts). 

Communication is the key
To this day, I remain amazed with his consistent and deliberate approach of maximizing every opportunity to communicate with people at all levels, everywhere. He took on the endless mission of replacing perceptions with facts, and he used every avenue available to him. 

From his weekly radio show, to his newspaper hotline, to FTAC and ALS gatherings, he was a "straight shooter" standing ready to provide facts. I continue to highlight the use of the word "communication" and not simply "talk" since there is a significant difference. 

I believe communication is best captured by the phrase "No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care." No subject was off limits, and at times, he would simply say "tell me what you've heard, and I'll let you know if it's true," and trust me, he did. 

He often stated that the toughest part of his job was maximizing effective communication at all levels, and he remained committed to that daunting task. His persistent and deliberate approach in getting the facts to people was extremely successful in minimizing rumors and gossip, and in most cases completely eliminating them. 

Don't gossip
Rumors and gossip have absolutely no place in the Air Force. They negatively impact mission accomplishment, degrade unit cohesion and can destroy Air Force families. 

Air Force Pamphlet 36-2241, the Professional Development Guide in discussing Military Etiquette states "Don't gossip. A discussion of personal habits, problems, and activities (real or rumored) of others often results in quarrels and disputes among people who work together. The morale of any unit may suffer because of feuds that arise from gossip. The best policy is not to gossip and to discourage others from gossiping." As leaders, we have a responsibility to clear up confusion and dispel rumors, not add to them. This is a tough challenge, since it is a direct struggle against human nature, but one that we can overcome with "Professional Courage." 

Professional Courage
This is a phrase that captured my heart the very first time I heard it several months ago. These words absolutely encapsulate my core belief of how we, as Airmen, should conduct ourselves. Simply put, it is having the courage to deal with issues in a professional, and most importantly, timely manner. 

Timing is critical, since it is easy to speak up after the facts are revealed or when you know you have the support of others, but it takes courage to speak up when you are standing alone. Although the concept sounds simple, placing it into action becomes a much tougher challenge and this is why "courage" is required. It's difficult to stand up and do what's right when it counts most, when your words and actions will have the most impact and make the biggest difference. It is tough to be the first one to step out and stand up for issues when nobody else is willing. 

Professional Courage is absolutely required to stand up and do what is right if we are going to prevent and overcome rumors and gossip. 

Let's look at how this applies: 

  • "It is easier to talk about someone who was drunk and disorderly the morning after the fact instead of stepping in and taking action when they needed help and before they made foolish decisions;
  • It is easier to talk about someone who had too much to drink and got behind the wheel of a motor vehicle instead of asking them if they have a plan to get home or taking their keys from them before they get in the vehicle;
  • It is easier to entertain negative conversations about people rather than encourage them to address the issues directly with the individual(s) to whom it concerns;
  • It is easier to talk to your co-workers about your supervisor instead of speaking directly with your supervisor about your issues;
  • It is easier to believe the first information that reaches your ear rather than reserve judgment until you've gathered all the facts related to the issue, from all sides; and
  • It is always more comfortable to take the road of least resistance, however the easier way often comes at a price that is way too costly. All of us have found ourselves in positions where we were confronted with similar decisions. What did we do? If you are anything like me, you are proud of some decisions and not so proud of others.
At times, I wish I had the opportunity to have some situations back to do all over again, but life does not work that way. I have found however, that life has a funny way of giving us another opportunity to take the same test throughout the course of our lives. Although the details might be different, the principles will be very similar and in some cases the same. 

What will you do? I ask you to have the strength to display professional courage when needed. Our Air Force demands that we be "Wingmen, Leaders, Warriors" ... I don't think this is possible without "Professional Courage!"

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