How one Marine became a proud Airman

  • Published
  • By Col. Daniel J. Courtois
  • 55th Maintenance Group commander
I am a proud Airman. That statement took me a little time to appreciate and truly accept.

I started my service to my country as a Marine, and most of you know from meeting Marines that they are truly proud of being Marines. In fact, they will tell you there is no such thing as an ex-Marine. I am no different. I am proud of my Marine origins.

For this reason, it took me some time to embrace the Air Force culture.

During my early days in the Air Force I missed the esprit de corps, the camaraderie and the tradition of being a Marine. As time went on, I truly came to appreciate our unique culture and our vital role in our nation's security.

When I made a statement in the past about Air Force culture, other servicemembers looked at me like I had three heads. Some asked me, "What culture?" or commented, "You guys change every two minutes. How can you have a culture?"

I always argue that these comments allude to the essence of the Air Force culture. We have a culture of change. The complex technological nature of air and space power requires that we are always innovating and adapting to advances in our operational environment. The Air Force, more than any other service, has had to change to meet the challenges of changing technology. The latest evidence of this is our rapidly expanding remotely piloted aircraft programs.

This need for change and innovation has become infused in our culture so we look for ways to improve every aspect of our service. This means we are in a constant state of change, but when you consider the context of our service culture, change is the Air Force way. I am proud of our innovation.

Another key element of our Air Force culture is the unique role of our enlisted force compared to other services.

When I try to explain the difference, I often draw a comparison between a Soldier ordered to charge a bunker and an Airman trying to increase performance from an aircraft system. In the case of the soldier, you probably don't want him to question his orders to charge that hill. In contrast, I believe throughout our history we have encouraged Airmen to question standard procedure and find a way to get more from our technology.

Obviously, this is an oversimplification and we have many bright and innovative personnel in the other services. However, I believe the Air Force has a culture that encourages our young people to think outside the box and challenge the status quo. I am truly proud to serve with our young Airmen. They are the best our country has to offer.
The other aspect of my pride as an Airman is the vital role the Air Force has played in our nation's security over the last 20 years. There is no question that in every conflict of the last 25 years we have been a pivotal force that enabled success.

In Operations Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom, our aircraft enabled freedom of movement and ensured minimal resistance from the enemy. In Kosovo, the Air Force ensured surrender of Serbian forces. In Afghanistan, our aircraft enabled an initial defeat of the Taliban by Afghan forces with minimal ground forces. Every day, our 55th Wing aircraft fill strategic missions in the area of responsibility and every corner of the globe. I am proud to be an Airman who maintains our nation's airpower.

I sometimes notice that Airmen are somewhat apologetic when identifying their service to other military members. That disappoints me. We should not apologize because we are not like other services. In my opinion, we should embrace it because we do things others can't. As Airmen, we play a unique and vital role in national security. We have a culture of innovation and change. Our air and space power is unrivaled. I am proud to be an Airman.