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True to the core

  • Published
  • By Col. Don Adams
  • 90th Maintenance Group commander
While recently rummaging through some of the many boxes still sitting unpacked in my basement (don't laugh, you have some of those too), I ran across a little blue book. As I thumbed through it, I was taken back to 1997, when I was a captain stationed at Grand Forks Air Force Base, N.D., in the now deactivated 321st Maintenance Squadron. I was a new maintainer having just spent almost eight years as a missile operator. Air Force Global Strike Command was but a gleam in the eye of many of us who longed for the good old days of the Strategic Air Command. The Air Force was working through some challenging situations, such as a high visibility adulterous fraternization case, two very infamous crashes which killed the Secretary of Commerce, among others, cases of contractor fraud and the tragic shoot down of two Army helicopters over Iraq by a U.S. Air Force F-15 Eagle. The Air Force needed to get back-to-basics, so to speak.

That January, the Air Force issued me this little blue book entitled "United States Air Force Core Values." That little book formally introduced me to the concept of Integrity First, Service Before Self, and Excellence in All We Do. Although we often take these for granted now, at the time these were surprisingly novel concepts for many people. While many folks instinctively lived by these values, these guidelines had never been institutionalized. As I read through the blue book, it struck me that it is still as relevant today as it was in 1997. As I walk through each of these values, I want to give my own perspective on what they do and do not mean to me.

Integrity First: What a powerful way to state that first core value. Air Force leadership could have just said integrity and called it good, but integrity first means so much more. Integrity is the cornerstone of our very existence. It is something no one can take from us; we have to choose to give it away. A former squadron commander of mine once used a china cup as an example of integrity. He said your integrity starts out as the cup does when it is new. It is perfect. Once it is chipped or broken, it can be glued back together and even used as a cup again. However, it will forever be flawed for all to see. Like the cup, once you compromise your integrity, it is forever flawed. Do it enough times and your word is meaningless. My standard when dealing with people is that I believe everything you tell me until you give me reason not to and then I question everything you tell me. Without integrity, the other two values are nearly impossible to live up to.

Service Before Self: I believe this is the most misunderstood of the core values. Many people over the years have used this value to manipulate and force others or themselves to do things they otherwise should not have done; often they had the best of intentions as they did so. I think this means simply to have a servant attitude. Actively look for ways to better those around you, especially your subordinates. Leave things better than you found them. Think of the impact your actions will have on the unit, not just on yourself. What it does not mean is "the Air Force always comes first." I have watched many friends and colleagues destroy relationships with their spouse, children and friends because they had the attitude that the needs of their family were always subservient to the Air Force. Please do not misunderstand me; there are times when the Air Force must come first. If you have the balance right all of the other times, your family and friends will understand. The key is getting that balance right. You must have the servant attitude that ensures you are taking care of all of your responsibilities, not just the ones that get you promoted.

Excellence in All We Do: This last value is arguably the easiest to understand. Simply put, we must strive to do the very best we can in every endeavor. I think the recent success at F. E. Warren shows we as a wing understand this one very well. We hold the Lee R. Williams award for "Best ICBM Wing in Air Force Global Strike Command," the Blanchard Trophy for the "Best ICBM Wing" at Global Strike Challenge, and numerous functional awards for "best in command" accolades throughout the wing. While we have had a great run over the last few years, we cannot, as a wing or as individuals, rest on our laurels. We are only as good as we are today. What we were yesterday is meaningless if we fail to properly execute our mission today. How good we were last year is worthless if we allow complacency to creep into our performance today. Good enough should not be your standard.

Thankfully, after almost 15 years, these core values are now engrained into the DNA of our Air Force. Most of you have never known an Air Force without them. If I stop any Airman in the hall -- and I just might -- I have the utmost of confidence they will be able to recite them to me without any trouble. As we work through the upcoming challenges our Air Force and our nation faces, I urge you to find a copy of the little blue book and get reacquainted with the core values. As you advance through your career, apply the core values to every situation you face and I will argue that you will never be found lacking in your performance.