Are you an Airman?

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Charles R. Owen
  • 755th Operations Squadron commander
Are you an Airman? Honestly?

It seems like a pretty easy question. I wear the Air Force uniform, I work on an air force base, I get paid twice a month by the Air Force ... I must be an Airman, right?

Well, maybe. However, I believe being an Airman is a bit more than what you wear, where you work and who pays you.

The thought for this commentary came to me in one of the most unusual places -- the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base Status of Discipline meeting. One of the cases presented to the wing commander involved a young Airman with a litany of infractions ranging from being late to work to more serious illegal activity.

I looked around the room as the Airman's commander expounded on this young man's list of past and present disciplinary issues, and I was struck by the expressions on the other commanders' faces. It wasn't anger or indifference, it was disappointment. The wing commander summed it up in a single comment with what seemed to be a tinge of sadness, "This Airman just doesn't get it."

What was it that this Airman didn't "get"? What does it mean to be an Airman anyway? What makes us different from our fellow Americans at Walmart or Wall Street?

The Airman's Creed is a good place to start and says a great deal when you look at it:

I am an American Airman
I am a warrior
I have answered my nation's call
The statement that strikes me the most is, "I have answered my nation's call." It's not talking about a recruiter calling your house. It's alluding to your decision to serve your nation.

I am an American Airman.
My mission is to fly, fight, and win
I am faithful to a proud heritage,
A tradition of honor
And a legacy of valor
As Airmen, we have a history. Our honorable service and resolute accomplishment of our mission are tributes to the men and women who served before us. Our failures dishonor their sacrifices.

I am an American Airman.
Guardian of freedom and justice,
My nation's sword and shield,
Its sentry and avenger
I defend my country with my life
We have a noble role to play. It falls upon us to protect our country and our way of life. However, what sets us apart from a majority of our nation's citizens is the last statement, "I defend my country with my life." You and your sister service brethren are literally pledging your lives in the service of our country; less than 10 percent of our fellow citizens have ever made that pledge.

I am an American Airman
Wingman, leader, warrior
I will never leave an Airman behind,
I will never falter
And I will not fail
This is a pretty tall order. It alludes to our obligation to one another and our mission. Every Airman is important, we all are absolutely essential to the accomplishment of the Air Force mission.

The 55th Electronic Combat Group commander put it very well in one of our recent staff meetings, "Airmen don't let other Airmen fail."

What this means is that as leaders, we have an obligation to make sure our subordinates have the tools and training to accomplish what is asked of them. As subordinates, we have an obligation to accomplish our mission effectively and efficiently, and not violate the trust our supervisors, and our nation for that matter, have placed in us.

As Airmen, we have an obligation to each other. Our mission is constant. If you falter, the burden falls on another Airman. If you fail, you put your fellow Airmen, and, potentially our nation, at risk. Each of us shoulders a tremendous responsibility.

The dismay at the status of discipline meeting was real. Each of us made a choice to answer our nation's call and each of us has recited the Airman's Creed. The commanders in that room expected Airmen to be Airmen. We depend on each other to be Airmen. Most importantly, our nation needs us to be Airmen.

Are you an Airman?