Who are we? Airman Warrior, Warrior Ethos, Cyber Warrior, Expeditionary Airmen, or just Airman?

  • Published
  • By Lt Col Steven Ramsay
  • 81st Training Group
Since the founding of the Air Force in 1947, we've attempted to define who we are. Our mission has evolved with technology and now we, "Fly, fight and win in Air, Space, and Cyberspace." 

Fairly clear and concise, each of us understands our role in the mission, operations or support. The question is not what we do but rather who we are? The term Airman Warrior is the most recent attempt at defining Airmen and it implies we've lost our culture--the culture of Mitchell, Arnold, Spaatz, Vandenberg, and many others. Airmen Warriors helped define our service's first mission statement from 1947, "The Air Force shall be responsible for the preparation of the air forces necessary for the effective prosecution of war except as otherwise assigned and, in accordance with integrated joint mobilization plans, for the expansion of the peacetime components of the Air Force to meet the needs of war." 

Simple and clear with no mention of warrior ethos because it was implied based on our proven combat record of two world wars. Since the end of the Cold War in 1991 the warrior spirit has been replaced by constant change, high ops tempo, and fewer and fewer Airmen. Where did the warrior ethos or culture go in the last twenty years? 

What is a warrior?  The Random House dictionary defines warrior two ways. First is the literal warrior who is engaged or experienced in warfare. The second is a figurative warrior who shows or has shown great vigor, courage, or aggressiveness. Which one defines most Airmen? The reality is the latter and this includes most who fought and won the Cold War. I sat alert for four years as a missile launch officer in the mid 1990's as the Cold War was winding down. 

Gone were the days of the highly trained Strategic Air Command warrior, replaced with the beginning of a fractured nuclear cadre and a loss of our nuclear culture. Recent events have also demonstrated it. The Air Force is now slowly getting back to basics with our nuclear mission but will the spirit or Nuclear Warrior Ethos return to those who are accomplishing that mission? Who are the other Airmen warriors? 

Recently the National Museum of the Air Force dedicated a new exhibit entitled Warrior Airman and the message gets to the heart of why many feel confused. The exhibit has three sections covering a select group of Airmen's contributions in Afghanistan and Iraq. The first section is titled "Battlefield Airmen" and tells the story of Air Force special operations forces such as pararescue men, tactical air controllers, and combat weather personnel. 

The second section is "Expeditionary Combat Airmen," and highlights other ground operations, such as security forces personnel, convoy operators, and explosive ordnance disposal teams. Finally, the third section is "In the Air" dedicated to the pilots and aircrews providing support in the Global War on Terrorism. Who is missing from the exhibit? 

Airmen from hundreds of other career fields like me. Now, my point isn't to detour from the courageous job these Airmen perform, but rather to point out that in defining "Airman Warrior" and it appears that the Air Force has left out most Airmen. If we accept that there are two types of warriors then perhaps we have two types of Airmen warriors. Every Airman cannot be engaged in active ground or air operations and be a literal Airman Warrior but the figurative (support) Airman Warrior is no less critical to the success of our mission. 

I am deploying to Iraq for a year as an Expeditionary Airman supporting the war on terrorism. I get to transition from a supporting Airman Warrior to a literal Airman Warrior engaged in coalition operations. I consider this a great opportunity to represent the Air Force as everything being an Airman means; warrior, professional, dedicated and I will not falter and I will not fail. What about you?