AF mission: It goes beyond the job

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Heather Alden
  • 39th Information Operations Squadron
Commanders and leaders are always reminding us how important we are to “the mission.” But, how many of us really know what “the mission” is? 

I remember being a young senior airman sitting in a commander’s call at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., and hearing the question, “Do you understand how you contribute to the mission?” Eyes glazed over, heads nodding, my peers and supervisors affirmed for the commander, “Yes, sir, we know how we contribute to the mission.” I remember nodding myself. I was a communications troop. I made sure people could communicate. That was how I contributed to the mission. Nod, smile. Sure, I got it. 

The funny thing is, I didn’t even know what kind of aircraft we had at MacDill. How could I possibly have known where I fit in the mission if I didn’t even know what the mission was? Yeah, yeah, I knew where to find the mission and vision statements, but to me, they were just fancy words that ambiguously described what the base did. “Yada, yada, yada, global reach … anytime, anywhere.” 

Don’t get me wrong, I see the importance of these kinds of statements. They tell you where you are (mission statement) and where you’re going (vision statement). But, if the troops can’t translate them into facts and concrete concepts, they are just “fancy words that cryptically describe what the base does.” 

So, what is your unit’s, your wing’s, your major command’s, the Air Force’s and the Department of Defense’s mission? How do you learn about it? How do you teach others what it is? 

It’s simple. You walk (or drive) around and ask questions. To help your troops understand your squadron’s mission, take your flight members on an impromptu “tour” of other flights – nothing formal, nothing fancy. It’s peers teaching peers. Ask other flights’ members to tell your troops what they do in their flight every day. Tour the offices and the workspaces. Look at the tools and equipment. See it, hear it, touch it, smell it, taste it (sometimes). 

When you’re done learning about your unit, take a field trip to another squadron. Do the same thing there – See, hear, touch, smell and taste. Make an effort to tour a different squadron every month. Even if you are strapped for time day to day and have to arrange the tour for near the end of the work day, the insight the troops gain by understanding other units’ operations is worth the time spent if the tour runs a little long. If you take the time to do this, you’ll be amazed at what you (and your troops) learn. You’ll gain an understanding of how this big machine called the U.S. Air Force works. Understanding this will help you understand where you fit into the mission. 

I guarantee you, had I gotten a tour of a KC-135 when I was an airman at MacDill, I’d have remembered what kinds of planes we had. I’d probably even have understood the mission – or at least I’d have understood that MacDill did aerial refueling. Instead, when I was at MacDill, I sat in a building with no windows on 12-hour shifts doing communications stuff. I understood multiplexers and modems, bits and bytes. I was technically proficient at my job, but I was Air Force-stupid. I wasn’t an Airman. I was a comm troop. 

If you have the time and inclination to further develop your troops, expose them to things that show how “Big Blue” works. Teach them how to be Operational Airmen. Teach about air operations centers, Air Staff and Joint Staff systems and how they interrelate – teach them how we do what we do. If you have time to go above even that, teach them the why by teaching them doctrine, strategy and airpower history – or show them where this information can be found. Lead them to the water. Inspire them to drink the water.
Becoming an Airman with a capital “A” is about more than just graduating on-the-job training. It’s about continually developing an understanding of airpower. 

Learning by walking around is so easy to do. It can be done at any level and the benefits are immeasurable. You get smart Airmen who understand the mission and how they contribute to it. It may take a little extra time out of your work day, but it will be time well-spent. If you’re too busy to develop your troops, you are doing something wrong or your priorities may need a little adjusting. 

Take the time. Develop your troops. Develop Airmen.