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Learning professionalism from NCOs

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Carmelo Giovenco
  • Joint Personnel Recovery Agency Commander
The article below was written by one of my sharp Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape NCOs, Tech. Sgt. Dave Scarborough. He submitted this for a quarterly award competition at the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency's higher headquarters, which at the time was under the Joint Forces Command. This article resonated with me and I realized I couldn't have written it better. Joint Forces Command chose it as the best essay submitted. In order to share an article of this caliber with a larger audience, I thought the Commander's Commentaries section provided the best venue.

"Professionalism" by Tech. Sgt. Dave Scarborough

A quick search of Barnes and Noble's website for the keyword "professionalism" uncovers 355 books covering some aspect of that topic. In today's fast-paced environment, the debate on what is considered "professional" or otherwise is a very popular topic. Various schools of thought exist on whether or not a particular career can be considered a "profession." Recently, Mr. Kevin Bond wrote an article for Joint Forces Quarterly analyzing the concept of "professionalism" with respect to the United States Army. The crux of the article, however, was a debate concerning whether or not Soldiers (or for the sake of this essay, military members in general) are actually worthy of being considered "professionals."

While I read through the article, I was constantly reminded of something I was taught in basic military training -- we are in a profession of arms. Webster's dictionary defines "profession" as "a calling requiring specialized knowledge and often long and intensive academic preparation." "Professional" is defined as "characterized by or conforming to the technical or ethical standards of a profession."

All members of the military receive initial training as well as specialized training. We learn the basic standards that we must adhere to as well as the technical skills needed to perform our daily duties. As we progress through our careers, we are expected to develop those skills and abilities, and receive additional personal or professional education.

When you look at other non-military careers, such as the medical field, you can draw from similarities in the different career paths. Initial training, specialized training and continuing education, and development are required in all professions. In reading the definitions and comparing my career to others outside of the military, it is my opinion that those of us serving in the profession of arms are indeed professionals.

One point that Bond develops is the continuum of professionalism. This is one of the most important aspects to consider when thinking of professionalism in the military.

An Airman assigned to the 5th Bomb Wing at Minot Air Force Base, N.D., Airman 1st Class Jose Hernandez wrote a commentary titled "Professionalism on- and off-duty" published on Feb. 2, 2011. In the commentary, he recalls an instructor in basic military training telling his flight to "never get complacent." While at basic, he states, simple tasks and behaviors contributed to his professional bearing: uniform wear, proper military etiquette, etc. As Hernandez progresses in his career, he will gain new skills, knowledge and rank, and will be expected to maintain a professional appearance and act professionally for the duration.

Young enlisted and commissioned officers alike are expected to conform to certain standards, whereas senior enlisted and officers have more responsibility and duties, and a broader set of standards to adhere to while maintaining the same standards expected of our junior corps.

In my opinion, the fundamental key lies not in determining whether or not members of the profession of arms are indeed "professionals." Instead, it lies in how we behave and treat one another. If we fail to act as professionals both on- and off-duty, then we are doing a disservice to the American public and the freedom that we all have sworn to defend with our lives. General Ronald Fogleman, former Air Force Chief of Staff, wrote "by voluntarily serving in the military profession, we accept unique responsibilities."

Those responsibilities not only include performing our primary duties, but doing so while expected to lay down our lives in order to support and defend the U.S. Constitution. The general explains that this expectation is what makes the military the "profession" of arms.

Therefore every Airman, Soldier, Sailor, Marine and Coast Guardsman should strive to act professionally 100 percent of the time in order to accomplish our missions and tasks and to truly view ourselves as professionals.