Air Force culture: our legacy to those who follow

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Greg Schmidt
  • 81st Dental Squadron superintendent
Have you ever compared joining the Air Force to visiting a foreign country? It is a completely different culture. To be successful, you must accept and adapt to a new way of life.

Edward B. Tylor describes culture as, "a complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, arts, morals, law, custom and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society."

The Air Force certainly has all of those qualities, and adapting to them involves converging one's beliefs to fall in line with the culture and values of our service. You know the big three: integrity first, service before self and excellence in all we do.

Those who embrace our service values do well and succeed in becoming an integral member of our culture. Those who don't tend not to remain with us very long.

Our service values unite us and shape our behavior. They change our view of the world. Think about how you viewed the military before you joined. You might have thought about it having some mystique and wondered if the only thing the military did was blow things up like you saw in the movies.

What is your viewpoint now? You're proud to be a member of the Air Force. You stand tall in your uniform. The mystique is gone and you know that the military is definitely about more than what you see in the movies.

We instill in our youngest Airmen lessons about our culture and traditions. Think about that first military haircut you received. It's a part of our heritage which we are obligated to pass on to the next generation of Airmen.

How do we ensure that those who take our places in the future understand what is expected of them? Do we give them someone to emulate, like that sharp NCO or senior NCO who is a walking, talking Air Force recruiting poster? Do we instill in them the pride and honor of serving the nation as a member of our Air Force? Do we demand excellence and reward those that show it? Think about how you do this in your organization.

John W. Gardner's quote says it all perfectly, "We must recognize that there may be excellence or shoddiness in every line of human endeavor. We must learn to honor excellence (indeed, to demand it) in every socially accepted human activity, however humble the activity, and to scorn shoddiness, however exalted the activity. The society which scorns excellence in plumbing because plumbing is a humble activity and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy because it is an exalted activity will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy. Neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water."

It is our obligation, from Airman to general, to train the next generation of Air Force members, to nurture and mold our leaders of tomorrow and leave our service a better place than when we started. Let us all do our best to guide and mentor those that follow in our footsteps and develop future American Airmen who will not falter and will not fail.