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Volunteer Airman

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Brian Jewell
  • 1st Air Support Operations Group intelligence superintendent
There's so much negative feedback out there in response to Air Force stories and on other military forums about volunteering, so I felt it necessary to present an alternative viewpoint for impressionable Airmen -- or even a jaded NCO or senior NCO -- who might have gotten some "bad gouge" from peers.

What does the Air Force instructions say? AFI 36-2618, The Enlisted Force Structure, paragraph 3.1.8. directs junior Airmen to "join professional organizations (for example, base advisory and enlisted councils) and participate in organization and community events through volunteerism." Paragraph 5.2.1. instructs master sergeants to fuse "subordinates' talents, skills, and resources with other teams' functions to most effectively accomplish the mission."

As a technical sergeant, I was once "voluntold" to be a sub-point of contact for volunteer coordination at a major event. My charge was to recruit volunteers from my organization, report those names to the main POC and then organize the group on the day of the event. I wasn't too keen on performing this particular task, but here's the rub: I was learning some valuable management skills through the experience without even realizing it. Fast-forward four years and a major task (one of my first as a SNCO) required this same set of management skills. Reflecting on my prior experience, I put together a plan of action: Specific tasks were delegated to others while I maintained ownership, accountability and oversight over the process as a whole. I engaged those under me and executed the plan. The mission was accomplished so much more efficiently and effectively than it otherwise would have been and our individual workloads were minimized as a result.

What reason would anyone have to criticize or complain about the effects of that first experience? Every volunteer opportunity I've had, from picking up trash along the highway, to being a physical training leader, to serving the less fortunate for two or three hours in a soup kitchen, has shared similar benefits whether I was conscious of the rewards or not. There is substance in broadening your horizons. If you don't like extending yourself or volunteering, don't do it. No one's forcing you. Common arguments I hear against volunteering are, "If you want to make chief master sergeant, forget being good at your job," or "actual job performance is meaningless anymore" (these quotes were taken verbatim from responses to a story on Specific leadership directives for all SNCOs per the AFI are "lead and manage teams" (paragraph 5.1.1.) and "best meet the challenges facing their organizations" (5.1.5.), ultimately in fulfillment of mission accomplishment.

Volunteering has made countless individuals better people and it's made them better Airmen. Does that mean you should spend all of your time outside the office, volunteering at the expense of your organization? Obviously not. Of course I've known individuals who fit that description, too. Subordinates lose respect for individuals who appear to look out only for themselves or a leader too absent to influence in the ways illustrated above. Find balance. Just don't lose sight of or become jaded to the importance of volunteering. Own your processes, make them personal and find ways to make them better. If you've had a bad experience with volunteering or known others who volunteered just for the bullet or out of blatant self-promotion, become the volunteer that you wish others would be. Stop sitting on the fence, criticizing those bold enough to have stepped off to try to make a difference. You're entitled to your opinion, but until you've tried to make things better, your opinion really doesn't hold water.