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  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Philip Cooper
  • 37 Helicopter Squadron commander
Have you ever stopped and thought about loyalty and what it really means? I believe it denotes an essential virtue in the character of an individual. Each of us have taken an oath to be loyal to our country and to the service to which we belong. Officers and enlisted alike must swear to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; and to bear true faith and allegiance to the same. Enlisted members have sworn further to obey the orders of the President of the United States, to the officers appointed over them, and to the regulations and Uniform Code of Military Justice.

In each of these oaths, loyalty is seen as a bottom to the top form of allegiance. However, have you ever thought of loyalty from the top down? In one of my favorite quotes by General George S. Patton, Jr., he captures the need of loyalty to flow not only from the bottom to the top, but from the top down as well when he states:

"There's a great deal of talk about loyalty from the bottom to the top. Loyalty from the top down is even more necessary and is much less prevalent. One of the most frequently noted characteristics of great men who have remained great is loyalty to their subordinates."

This quote has caused me to pause and reflect on what this must mean to me as an officer and commander of Airmen. How am I supposed to show loyalty to my subordinates, and how are my subordinate leaders supposed to show loyalty to their subordinates? I believe it has most to do with leading from the front by setting the example.

Leading from the front by setting the example covers a multitude of categories. To start with, it means demonstrating an ethic of work and lifestyle necessary for good order and discipline. The Air Force core values of integrity first, service before self and excellence in all we do is the best place to start. If my integrity is in question by my subordinates, how am I to expect their loyalty in showing their integrity?

When I fly, the standards of safety and mission focus must always be demonstrated if I expect my aircrew to show the same due diligence when they fly without me on the aircraft. When I do office work, wear my uniform or demand a fitness standard, I too must uphold that same standard. A double standard for leaders and subordinates shows an extreme lack of loyalty from the top down and will quickly erode loyalty from the bottom up.

Without integrity in all areas of leadership and duty performance, it is impossible to truly put service before self. Service must go up and down as well to show true loyalty. Downward loyalty through service means taking care of those subordinates. A leader's job is to accomplish the mission though fostering teamwork and caring for their teammates.

The goal of each leader must be to grow subordinates into higher echelons of leadership and not simply to use them to accomplish today's mission. The rationale for this is simple; the mission will continue beyond the leader's time in authority and therefore, future leaders must be groomed to perpetuate mission success. Serving and caring for subordinates shows loyalty from the top down and must entail growing them through mentorship in both their personal and professional lives.

Finally, excellence in all we do as leaders shows a quality of integrity and service before self in loyalty from the top down. In each of my guidance memorandums, I end with the following statement: "Integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all we do is the standard of the 37th Helicopter Squadron. Bring credit and honor to the unit, and take care of each other in all your actions."

My goal is excellence in all areas of squadron operations because it is expected by my superiors and because Airmen want to be a part of an excellent organization. In my quote I am asking for loyalty in order to bring credit and honor to the unit and I ask for loyalty from the top down by asking my Airmen to take care of each other in all their actions. This must start with me if I am to see loyalty flow up as well as down.