Customs, courtesies crucial to mission success

  • Published
  • By Senior Master Sgt. Basil Payne
  • 355th Dental Squadron superintendent
If you were to ask most people what military customs and courtesies are, you would more than likely get a variety of answers.

I however, define military customs as a social convention stemming from tradition and enforced as an unwritten law. On the other hand, if the guidance is in written form, it's a military courtesy.

In the Air Force, military conduct is based on acceptable standards of behavior as demonstrated by good manners, consideration for others and courtesy. The Air Force is made up of people from various social groups. It is, in fact, a cross section of America exhibiting all the various manners, aims, morals and ideals existing throughout our nation. Unless this heterogeneous social group accepts a common code of conduct, no semblance of unity can exit.

Military customs and courtesies go beyond basic politeness. They govern our regard for the rights and ideas of others. History shows that a lack of military customs and courtesies has a direct relationship with a decrease in esprit de corps, morale, discipline and most importantly, mission effectiveness.

As members of a profession of arms, it is important that we be familiar with proper customs and courtesies to set the example daily and show respect for each other. Extending the proper customs and courtesies should be commonplace, as these actions also demonstrate a high level of professionalism and respect for our military way of life.

Most military customs and courtesies evolve from long-standing practices or have some historical significance. The position of honor has always been to the right. This originated from the medieval swordsmen who always wore their weapons on the left side and drew them to their right. The strongest and most experienced warriors were given the place of honor to allow them easy access to their weapons. This practice carried over to today.

Always give the senior person enlisted or commissioned officer the position of honor when walking, riding, or sitting with him or her. The junior person should take the position to the senior's left. The respect shown to a senior by a junior acknowledges the senior's responsibility and authority.

The military salute also has a history dating back to the ancient knights. They would raise their face visor on their helmets as a greeting, and signified friendship and confidence as it removed the sword hand from the weapon. Today, the salute is a courteous exchange of greetings, with the junior member always saluting the senior member first. A salute is also rendered to the flag as a sign of respect.

Ducking back into the building or making that quick dash to the car as soon as reveille sounds shows disrespect and should be corrected, as it detracts from good order and discipline. Each salute you render says you are a proud of your country and shows respect for the chain of command.

Although customs and courtesies, especially the salute, are signs of politeness, one that has been ingrained into us from the day we enter the Air Force is etiquette.

Etiquette is defined as common, everyday courtesy. Work centers function more smoothly and pleasantly when members practice good manners. Simple things like saying "please" and "thank you" help the organization run smoother.

One of the most valuable habits anyone can develop is to be on time. There are times when being late is unavoidable. If this happens, it is best to call ahead to let your supervisor or person know you will be late. Do not keep others waiting.

Make sure to always use proper telephone etiquette, be polite and identify yourself and your organization. When an individual is not available to take a call, ask: "May I take a message?" or "Is there something I may help you with?"

If a call is to be returned, write down the individual's name, organization, telephone number and the message. Then pass this information along to the intended recipient. In general, use common sense and be considerate of other people and insist your subordinates do the same.

Common acts of courtesy among all Air Force personnel aid in maintaining discipline. When courtesy falters within a unit, discipline ceases to function, and accomplishing the mission is endangered. As enlisted members, it is our duty to know our Air Force customs and courtesies and to correct any and all violations. Doing so promotes good morale, esprit de corps, discipline and mission effectiveness and speaks volumes about how we as professionals remain the greatest Air Force in the world.