What service before self really means

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Brian A. Humphrey
  • 45th Reconnaissance Squadron commander
Recent events have given me the opportunity to reflect on Air Force core values -- integrity, service before self and excellence in all we do.

The one I hold above all others is service before self. This simple little three-word phrase, in my opinion, is the bedrock of our nation's armed forces and the invisible fabric that binds us together to transform individual Airmen into the world's premier air and space force.

But what does service before self really mean in our day-to-day lives?

I don't believe a simple definition from the dictionary or Air Force doctrine does an adequate job of fully describing the meaning of service before self. I believe it really boils down to focusing on three general categories of activity and establishing priorities.

These categories are: accomplishing the mission, training to accomplish the mission, and everything else. The men and women of the 45th Reconnaissance Squadron hear this virtually every time I stand before them because I believe it is that important.

The 55th Wing's mission is to provide dominant intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, electronic attack, command and control, and precision awareness to national leadership and war fighters across the spectrum of conflict any time, any place. We do this by presenting aircraft operated by combat mission ready aircrews to combatant commanders. In a time where it seems we have multiple balls in the air, we sometimes need to prioritize which balls we can't drop -- the mission is one of those.

Here in the 45th, an aircrew member can be called upon to execute the mission without notice. This isn't a hypothetical. Last year, I had to deploy multiple crew members to replace those injured in a small airplane mishap.

Because of this, we need to ensure that we are continually ready and constantly training to deploy. Each member is responsible for ensuring his or her mobility currency is up to speed, backstopped by the chain of command. In addition to mobility requirements, we also focus on training to be proficient in our primary jobs. Proficiency and currency are two separate matters. While currency is good, I need aircrew members that are also proficient. Bottom line here - if you're not in a continual cycle of training, you're probably missing something.

Then there's everything else. To a great extent, this includes those activities not directly linked to the mission or training to execute the mission. Some are personal and include leave and career enhancing actions, such as professional military and off-duty education. Some are professional in nature, such as positional or skill level upgrades. It is within these areas where we sometimes, as leaders, are forced to prioritize to accomplish the mission.

In the 45th, we've gone to exceedingly great lengths to avoid members missing out on opportunities, but in an environment where there are more tasks than bodies, we haven't always succeeded in the everything else category.

Every day, I am inspired by Airmen putting forth the extra effort to exceed the high standards placed upon them, while at the same time, accepting that some things will be necessarily deferred. All the sacrifices begin to build, from missing the first steps of a child to not being there to see your son or daughter attend his or her first prom, to being gone when a loved one is hospitalized.

None of this, however, comes close to those that have given the ultimate sacrifice in the name of their country. Lt. Col. Mark Stratton, a former member of the 45 RS, made that sacrifice in the mountains of Afghanistan last Memorial Day.

These are just reminders of why we are here, and how important it is that we are able to put service before self to accomplish the mission.

It is the responsibility of all Airmen to make sure they can add their skill set to the overall accomplishment of the 55th Wing mission, but it's the responsibility of leadership to ensure that Airmen have the tools they need and the appreciation they deserve.

That little three-word phrase, service before self, contains a powerful message, and I would like to thank all of you that have taken the time to put service before self as we pursue of our national goals. Your sacrifices don't go unnoticed.