Every Airman is an ambassador

DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. -- Sept. 18, 1997 was a special day. It was the Air Force's birthday, the 50th birthday of the youngest of the armed forces in America. For me and a room full of nervous civilians, it was the day we swore oaths and shipped off to our services' basic training.

As the bus rolled out of the Montgomery, Ala. military entrance processing station, I considered that we recruits, who could not even gather to the position of attention at unison moments before at our oath-swearing ceremony, would now be Airmen, Marines, Sailors and Soldiers.

I recalled the night before in a fellow recruit's room, where we all shared our own stories of our future services and why we chose the services we did. Like the others who bragged on their services, I bragged about the Air Force. Although I did not know what it was to be an Airman yet, I was proud of becoming one.

Ten years and five stripes later, I remain proud. I reflect daily on my duties and wonder if every other Airman does the same.

Recently, I had the unique opportunity to spend about four months on temporary duty in a joint service environment. There, I supervised three Airmen, 11 Marines, one Coast guard member, nine Sailors and 15 Soldiers.

During that experience, I had the exciting opportunity to give 39 fellow servicemembers a first-hand look at what it meant to be a NCO in the United States Air Force.

They got the chance to learn about Air Force dedication and commitment to unwavering professionalism and to consistently see their leader uphold the highest Air Force standards and demand the same of them.

I hope that what they experienced shaped their views of the Air Force because I gained something from my experiences with each of their unique service-related customs, lingo and professionalism.

Bottom line is all Airmen are challenged constantly to be ambassadors of our small, young and proud force.

I received an email recently from Marine Sgt. Lukas Atwell, a Public Affairs counterpart stationed at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, S.C., who described his experience with Airmen in Okinawa, Japan. Here is what he said:

"Before I joined the military, my father(a former Marine) told me that if I was going to join a branch, to join the Air Force because it is easy and I wouldn't have to go to war. I took this as a way of saying they weren't trained well and ended up joining the Corps.

During my first enlistment, I always heard the old service rivalry stuff about the 'Chair Force.' I just thought that they were civilians in uniform and they were 'nasty' (undisciplined).

In 2004, I got the opportunity to serve with a group of Airmen from the 18th Security Forces Squadron at Jungle Warfare Training in Okinawa. I saw that they were professional both to each other, their superiors and to my fellow Marines. They were there to learn and take in what they were being taught.

I was assigned to one of their squads (flights) and completed the entire training cycle with them, including a four-mile endurance course through the jungle. We stuck through the obstacles, mud and exhaustion together.

We competed against another group of Airmen and nine teams of Marine artillerymen and we finished second. Needless to say, I was impressed with my fellow Airmen and to this day, Jungle Warfare Training remains one of my favorite service memories."

As Airmen, we make impressions every day.

If we analyze where we stand in history compared to our brethren, our 59 years of pride and tradition makes us mere teenagers when compared to the U.S. Marine Corps' 231 years of traditions.

Certainly, they have long histories, which bring wisdom; they do their jobs well.

We are blessed with our youth and invigorating desire to excel in everything we do. When the other services see a squared-away Airman, they see a squared-away Air Force.

We need to constantly ask ourselves life-altering questions such as: What can I do to better myself as I transition through the Air Force's teenage years? Am I challenging myself to the fullest and holding my fellow Airmen to the highest standards every day? Do I buddy check Airmen and ensure uniforms and hair are squared away; do I recommend improvements regardless of rank? Do I always address others by rank or title? Do I use proper etiquette when addressing superiors, answering telephones and extending daily greetings or salutations to co-workers? These things truly matter.

Next time you wake up and put on your uniform, I challenge you to look in the mirror and ensure your appearance is nothing less than pristine. When you report to duty, I challenge you to extend a loud and proud greeting of "Good morning Sir/Ma'am" or "Good morning (title) sergeant." Challenge yourself to be that professional Airman, completely dedicated to your loved ones, unit and country, completely committed, never letting your standards or professional image waiver.

After that, you will see the changes around you. You will see your professionalism spread. As fast as a virus infects a computer, your positivism will infect your unit.

I saw this with my Airmen, Marines, Soldiers, Coast guardsman and Sailors while TDY. Certainly, you will see it in your duty section as well.