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Service before self is our way of life

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Robbie Wellbaum
  • 9th Air Refueling Squadron
What comes to mind when you reflect on our core value of service before self? For some, the immediate thoughts are long hours, forced family separations, austere living conditions and dangerous jobs. While hardships are certainly part of our military duties, service really means a way of life that we embrace on and off duty.

Our U.S. Air Force core values book tells us that professional duties take precedence over personal desires. But what does that statement really mean in our day-to-day conduct? Luckily, we have detailed guidance that explains further. The areas of rule following, respect for others, discipline and self-control and faith in the system are all covered briefly in the core values verbiage. The first tenet of service is rule following.

Following the rules in a military organization can seem like a no-brainer to most of us. But in practice we have probably encountered individuals and even organizations that sometimes think they have a better way, one that doesn't always comply with the rules. As professional warriors, we are expected to use good judgment. The core values book states that, professionals understand that rules have a reason for being and the default position must be to follow those rules unless there is a clear, operational reason for refusing to do so. For example, conforming to the Geneva Convention even though it means disobeying a conflicting order is a clear reason. On the other hand, not wearing the proper color socks with your airman battle uniform or flight suit because no one sees them is not a valid reason. Along with following rules, we must conduct ourselves respectfully.

The tenet respect for others advises that we must always act in the certain knowledge that all persons possess a fundamental worth as human beings. It's important to remember all people have value even when we must address their shortcomings. The difference between showing respect and a lack of respect can prompt success or failure when developing our Airmen. Genuine concern for people naturally lends itself to respect. Ron Myska, 9th Air Refueling Squadron honorary commander and business owner, states his employees' goal as having good rapport with customers and fellow employees. Along with respect, the best leaders must also practice discipline and self-control.

Our core values remind us that as professionals we must refrain from self-pity, discouragement, frustration, or defeatism. Anger and appetites are two areas that can get leaders into trouble. We cannot afford displays of anger no matter how justified we think they are. One of the greatest generals of all time, Gen. George Patton, learned this the hard way when he struck a private he thought was malingering. In reality, the young man was suffering the devastating effects of malaria and the general was eventually forced to make a series of humbling public apologies.

Appetites, when left unchecked, can also cause grief for leaders and their followers. Nothing can destroy a unit's morale faster than scandalous behavior. From sexual overtures to excessive use of alcohol, appetites can ruin careers and cause great harm to an organization.

Discipline also extends to our personal religious beliefs. Our guidance states, Professionals must not take it upon themselves to change or coercively influence the religious views of subordinates. Myska mirrors our core value of discipline and self-control nicely in his employee goals of a positive attitude, easy to work with and no drama.

Our final tenet of service before self is to exercise faith in the system. When we think we are somehow outside or superior to the chain of command we lose faith in the system. Trying an end run around supervisors or going outside channels is the hallmark of someone who places self before service. Leaders have the biggest responsibility in this regard and should support the proper use of command channels. Again, our Air Force values translate effectively to the civilian sector. Myska encourages his employees to be complete team players and to look out for the company and fellow employees.

Whether running a successful business or the greatest air force on earth, service before self plays a huge role in success.

Following rules, showing respect, exercising self-discipline and using the chain of command create a solid foundation for professionals at every level of leadership.