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Military leadership in a civilianized force

KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, BILOXI, MISS. -- Thirty or even 20 years ago when our Airmen reported to duty, more than likely, in most assignments, they worked side by side, day in and day out, night in and night out next to another Airman, soldier or sailor. Except for encounters at the base exchange, gas station or club, most of their daily interactions were with other service members. That is most definitely not the case today. 

The civilianization of most military installations for whatever reason -- long-term cost savings, freeing of deployment assets, acquisition of technical expertise -- has continued to increase. Unit commanders and noncommissioned officers are facing daily challenges in managing these mixed blessings. 

In no way do I want to disparage our civilian work force. In my unit, I have many dedicated, hard-working civilian professionals who come to work every day and perform outstanding service to their country. Without them, the mission would suffer. Many of these civilian employees are prior active duty. 

At the end of the work day, however, they go home to family and life in their local communities. They are subject to the local ordinances, laws and community standards. These communities do not impose fitness standards. Military members on the other hand, when they leave the military installation, remain subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice. We don't stop being Airmen at the front gate. 

Peer pressure and co-worker influence on our younger Airmen are different than what we felt at the same stage of our careers. So how do we as military officers and NCOs instill in the Airmen under us a pride in being "different" from civilians? We do it by setting the example, by conducting ourselves as if we are always in uniform and always under scrutiny, as we are. 

We voluntarily raise our hands and take an oath to hold ourselves to a higher standard. That standard includes proper wear of the uniform, a proper military bearing, meeting fitness standards and being subject to the UCMJ. As leaders, we're required to instill and teach professional ethics, mentor those we can and, unfortunately, punish those who require it. We need to remind ourselves that while for some it's a job, for us it's a duty. We need to continue to teach military traditions, require professional military education, enforce customs and courtesies, and remember our fallen brothers and sisters who died wearing this uniform to protect a nation of civilians. 

There are definite perks for military members. In the last few years, I've been pleasantly surprised and frankly blown away by civilians who have approached me while in uniform and thanked me for my service to this country. I have been humbled by these experiences and am reminded how much we are under public scrutiny. We serve civilians and they serve us. What may be appropriate in civilian society may not be appropriate in the military environment. 

As military leaders, we must take the time to thank our civilian employees for their service and find ways to reward them, but must also continue to hold our military members to a different and more stringent standard: "I am an American Airman......"