By Col. Steve Tanous, 30th Space Wing commander
/ Published June 16, 2008
VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. --
Rarely do Airmen go more than a single day in today's Air Force without hearing about the Core Values: Integrity First, Service Before Self, Excellence In All We Do. Often, leaders want subordinates to embrace the true meaning of the message as much they have. The Core Values are important, and I want you to take them to heart.
Bobby Jones is considered one of the history's greatest golfers. He won thirteen majors before he retired at the age of twenty-eight. And he is the first player to win four majors in one year. But even more than his winning record on the golf course, Bobby Jones is famous for a one-shot penalty at the 1925 U.S. Open. Jones inadvertently touched his golf ball and assessed himself a one stroke penalty, but no one else saw him touch the ball. Not the tournament official. Not his playing partner. Neither of them believed he actually touched the ball. Bobby Jones could have easily justified not taking the penalty. No one saw it. It didn't affect anything. The tournament official said, "Well, Bobby, it is up to you. Do you believe you touched the ball?" To which Bobby responded, "I know that I did."
Bobby Jones lost the 1925 U.S. Open by one stroke!
When reporters tried to interview him about the self-imposed penalty, Bobby Jones told them not to write about it. He said it would be inappropriate because there was nothing extraordinary about playing by the rules. When praised for his integrity, he said, "You might as well praise a man for not robbing a bank." Bobby Jones could have compromised his integrity and won the match, but he chose to lose the match and keep his integrity intact. In our daily lives, we often face situations where no one would know if we "skirted" the rules; in those cases we have only our conscience to answer to. Gen. Charles A. Gabriel, the Air Force Chief of Staff from 1982 to 1986, said, "Integrity is the fundamental premise for military service in a free society. Without integrity, the moral pillars of our military strength, public trust and self-respect are lost." Trust in each other leads to success and success helps us earn the trust of society. The public must believe that each Airman will do the right thing and that the Air Force will do the right thing for the country. Without integrity, neither of these can be achieved. I expect each of you to do the right thing, even when no one is looking, to follow your "moral compass" regardless of the circumstances.
Service Before Self
Extreme examples of Service Before Self are codified in the actions of people like Capt. Lance Sijan. Captain Sijan waved off the rescue helicopter, putting the lives of the flight crew above his own. His heroic actions are an inspiration. But each of us can place Service Before Self even if we are not placed in such dire straits.
Every day you put on a uniform, you put the Air Force above your personal wants and desires. As I've said before, we are a nation at war. Most of the Airman in today's Air Force took their oath since combat operations began in Iraq and Afghanistan. As an Airman, and as Americans, you have all pledged to defend our great nation. As a member of our Air Force, you are all part of something bigger than yourselves. Your nation called, and you responded. It's that dedication to duty, and willingness to place Service Before Self, that makes our Airmen the most important weapon system in the Nation's arsenal. Each of you has sacrificed some personal freedom to dedicate yourself to defending our nation. I applaud you and encourage you to continue to make the Air Force a better place in your daily actions and attitude.
Excellence In All We Do
Some people think of this Core Value and believe they must do something amazing to achieve excellence. While amazing feats certainly apply they are not solely the intent of the value. The intent is to display excellence in ALL we do. The "Little Blue Book" includes a quote from Gen. Ronald Fogleman, Air Force Chief of Staff from 1994 to 1997.
"True quality is embodied in the actions of Air Force people who take decisive steps to improve processes and products; who capitalize on quality as a leverage tool to enhance products, achieve savings, and improve customer service; and who exemplify our core values of integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all we do."
General Fogleman was talking about improving the things we do on a daily basis. That means even the duties that become mundane and robotic should be viewed with a new perspective to see potential areas for improvement.
The 30th Space Wing has truly embraced a culture of excellence, but that doesn't mean there isn't room for improvement or that we've reached the end of the journey. Recently, Gen. C. Robert Kehler, commander, Air Force Space Command, said "We are going to insist on perfection as the standard and we are going to be absolutely certain that we are holding people to the appropriate level of accountability, responsibility, authority and everything that goes with our attention on this business." His view is that "any command that achieves 58 successful launches in a row; puts things on orbit where they don't fail prematurely for over five years; and maintains a 90-plus percent alert rate in its ICBM force, must have a positive culture that grows competent, responsible, professional Airmen and civilians." He noted, however, that "in our business, the most useless thing is to look back at the launch pad when you are launching into space, it is interesting, but it is irrelevant. It doesn't matter what we did yesterday. It matters what we are doing today, so we can do it better tomorrow. It matters that we learned the lessons of yesterday so we can apply that knowledge today and into tomorrow."
I challenge each of you to advance our culture of excellence and find efficient, innovative ways of doing your job to improve the combat capability of your unit, the 30th Space Wing and the Air Force as a whole.
Why Do We Need Core Values?
Air Force members come from all walks of life. We were all raised with differing perspectives. But when we answered the call to serve our Nation, we as Airmen are asked to trust one another, sometimes with their lives. That means the diverse group of people who enter the service must come together and adopt a common ethical approach. Success hinges on our ability to embrace that approach and achieve a singular moral viewpoint.
Let The Core Values Be Your Guide
The Core Values are a road map to guide our words and actions as Airmen. The Values should permeate everything we do both on and off duty. We are Air Force professionals 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. From our decisions at work that affect hundreds of Airmen and millions of dollars, to our decisions at home to watch our kids play soccer or go see a movie with the family instead of staying late at work, the Core Values are your guide to doing the right thing, regardless of the situation. I've talked and written about my three vectors of being a Strategic Airman, a good Wingman and advancing a Culture of Excellence. These three vectors are simply the result of putting the Core Values in action. Once you internalize the Core Values and they become second nature to you, then you can be sure you'll make the right decisions for the right reasons at the right time for you, your fellow Airmen, and our Air Force.