Caring is free

Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Rodney J. McKinley greets Master Sgt. Michael Owen, 21st Security Force Squadron first sergeant, while visiting the Airman Leadership School at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo. The chief visited the schoolhouse and Headquarters Air Force Space Command July 28. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Raheem Moore)

Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Rodney J. McKinley greets Master Sgt. Michael Owen, 21st Security Force Squadron first sergeant, while visiting the Airman Leadership School at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo. The chief visited the schoolhouse and Headquarters Air Force Space Command July 28. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Raheem Moore)

VANDNEBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Our Air Force today faces tough challenges. We are fighting a long war on terrorism. We are constantly asked to compete priorities against each other, weigh costs and keep an eye on balances, expenditures and the bottom line. However, in the midst of prosecuting recapitalization and modernization of our air, space and cyberspace assets; affecting and experiencing significant force structure changes and getting the mission accomplished; we can never lose sight of what is most important -- our Airmen.

Our Airmen are absolutely incredible, and a large percentage of them volunteered after 9/11 with our Nation at war. They serve at a time that demands sweat equity; working high operations tempo, separations from their families and personal sacrifice. Yet through all this, Airmen remain one of the few assets whose value appreciates over time instead of depreciating.

As Airmen, and especially the leaders of Airmen, it is important to remember we possess a valuable resource that is never-ending, abundant and valuable - the ability and responsibility to care for our Airmen and their families. Caring is a characteristic that endears us to each other and forms lasting relationships that bond us together. On the other hand, when care is found lacking in an organization, the absence can damage the institution's ability to respond appropriately to members' needs. Mission failure then becomes a very real possibility. It is also important to note that at a time when budget and financial restrictions impact nearly every enterprise, caring is free.
Caring begins with our teammates and fellow Airmen. We have invested valuable time and limited resources on every Air Force member -- civilian, enlisted and officer. In today's challenging times everyone matters... everyone! We should always treat people with respect and dignity.

Account for the fact that many of our most recent members may be away from home for the first time. You can make a difference in their lives with a caring attitude and behavior that are representative of our Air Force's core values. Heartfelt actions like a pat on the back, a birthday greeting, or words of encouragement, can go a long way toward motivating Airmen and assuring them that their sacrifices count. Likewise, picking up the phone to check on the family of a deployed warrior does not cost anything, but goes a long way toward reminding the family we care and acknowledge the critical part they play in our success.

Caring about Airmen also means enforcing standards and discipline. When we see Airmen going astray or exhibiting lapses in judgment or commitment, we need to provide the proper feedback and mentoring to get them back on track. We need to step outside our comfort zone and confront negative behaviors or trends. Providing mentorship and guidance - leadership - will help navigate them toward a rewarding and productive career path.

Care for your family and other Airmen's families. Our Air Force families care for us by providing the inspiration, comfort and support we need to keep us focused on the mission. These families make frequent permanent change of station moves; deal with unpredictable work and deployment schedules; bear our absence during birthdays, anniversaries and holidays as they stand alongside us in selfless sacrifice. We should go above and beyond in our care of them to demonstrate our understanding and appreciation for their unwavering dedication.

Caring about each other means caring about our health. Airmen are all required to maintain physical fitness standards. We should already be participating in a regular exercise regimen, so it should not cost us anything to pair up with a teammate who may be struggling to overcome a plateau in their fitness routine. Oftentimes our wingmen may need a pacer to improve their run time, or maybe a little encouragement to bust out those extra push-ups or crunches. Your kind attention to the healthy lifestyle of a fellow warrior could mean the difference of a pass or fail score on a fitness assessment, or life or death on the battlefield.

Care for your Air Force. We should all make every day count by giving 100 percent effort all the time - our Nation expects no less. Care for your mission; put the maximum effort into your work as though someone's life depended on it, because in many of our duties someone's life does depend on our actions.

Being an American Airman is a profession, not a job. It's up to each and every one of us to dedicate ourselves to the protection of our homeland, its people, interests and ideals. Care for your Nation, she depends on you. Care for the freedoms we protect, and remember that other Americans have paid the ultimate price to preserve it for you.

We will continue down this path of fleet modernization, infrastructure improvement, forceshaping and rolling out smart operation processes to put increased value to our mission and actions. In the midst of all these challenges, its important to remember that everything we do starts with caring -- and true caring is free.