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Leaving lasting impressions

F.E. Warren AFB, Wyo. -- I was recently afforded the opportunity to attend the Air Force NCO academy at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colo. I spent the traditional six weeks at the academy with my fellow technical sergeants from around the Air Force, discussing leadership and management concepts, communication skills and other topics to make us more effective at supervising and leading Airmen. 

I learned a lot at the academy and took away a different perspective on some of the issues that face our force and nation today. Of all the issues we discussed, the one that stands out in my mind is the belief of many of my peers that the young Airmen serving our Air Force today seem to have lost their way. 

There is a belief among many seasoned NCOs that the Airmen serving today are somehow less motivated, less committed and less disciplined than we were "back in the day." As an airman leadership school instructor over the last three years, I've had the opportunity to work with more than 700 of these young Airmen, and I can tell you honestly and through experience that nothing could be further from the truth. 

Airmen serving in the Air Force today are facing and overcoming challenges that we have never faced before. They're entering the Air Force with the full knowledge they may be asked to deploy to a combat zone and fight the enemy face to face, standing shoulder to shoulder with the Army and the Marines. I've been fortunate enough during the last three years to meet Airmen who have earned the Meritorious Service Medal and the Purple Heart during combat action against that enemy, as well as Airmen who have volunteered for remote assignments to Korea on the off chance that they "might" receive a career job reservation at the end of the tour. 

The commitment and motivation that have made the Air Force great are still present in the Airmen of today; the only thing they're lacking in many cases is someone to help guide them in reaching their full potential. 

These young men and women who serve today deserve more from those of us who have been afforded the opportunity to lead; they don't deserve our contempt or our disillusionment with what we perceive to be the "new Air Force." As experienced, motivated and committed patriots, we have a responsibility to our Airmen and to the country we serve to provide a living example of what we expect them to be. 

We've all heard those oft quoted and sometimes overused expressions like "lead from the front" or "set the example for others to follow," but we all too often equate those sayings to being applicable only on the battlefield. We overlook the opportunities to lead that present themselves to us every day and, in doing so, often set an example for our troops that we had no intention of setting. 

Through the example we provide to our Airmen, we teach them either to embrace the values of integrity, selflessness and excellence that our force uses to guide its actions, or we teach them to look out for themselves above all else, to practice integrity only when it best suits them and to accept mediocrity as a destination rather than as a starting point. The Airmen who serve today need to be and want to be pushed to reach their potential, not dismissed as a lost cause. 

Those men and women who walk the halls of our buildings today are the true legacy we as supervisors will leave behind when we're gone. We will not be remembered for the awards we've won or the things we've accomplished but for the lasting impression, whether good or bad, we've instilled in those individuals.