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The enduring foundation of Air Force success: Airmen

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Most of us serving clearly recall the events of Sept. 11, 2001, and are intimately familiar with the 14-year campaign to defeat terrorism that continues today. By 2001, however, the Air Force was already approaching a decade of deployments across the globe and today nears the silver anniversary of nearly continuous combat operations. Since the first patrols over the no-fly zones of southern Iraq in 2002, through operations in the Balkans, Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya to today, the Air Force has remained constantly in the fight defending freedom.

The Air Force of today is much different in many ways from the Air Force that picked up the baton in Iraq almost 25 years ago. Less people, new personnel programs, and even different uniforms are just a few differences. Yet despite such changes, a constant remains - the excellence and dedication of the Air Force's most important resource - Airmen. Our principal, collective purpose must be to take care of this resource.

I believe the foundation of taking care of our people starts with the deep and abiding relationships we form. Psychological studies show the incredible positive effect on an individual's well-being in connecting with others. Much like an office building, strong personal relationships are the cement in the foundation of our force. Establishing these bonds, building a strong footing is fundamental to ensuring today's Airmen, and today's Air Force, remain ready to face tomorrow's challenges.

I also contend that building and maintaining such a foundation is not difficult, but it does take time, effort and energy. It takes those willing to invest in our team; to listen, to understand, to empathize and support. There is no lack of opportunities to get to know others. Commander's Calls, "First Fridays", PT, private organization meetings - are all avenues to connect. But such opportunities are useless without the individual, at the personal level, who is willing to put the energy toward truly knowing those around them.

Often, the simplest interactions yield the greatest benefits. Asking a fellow Airman how their weekend was or how their family is, are straightforward examples of the necessary building blocks of a strong relationship. Building on these first steps, taking the time to form relationships, leads to understanding each other in truly meaningful ways. Ways that no classroom training can replace. Ways that become invaluable when our colleagues face tough times or need support. Ways that help avoid cracks in our foundation.

It is easy, as daily activities keep us in constant motion, to lose sight of our most important resource, and the value of establishing enduring bonds. I have no doubt that over the past 25 years, countless Airmen faced this same challenge. I also believe that the Air Force's lasting success is due to our investments in our foundation, our Airmen. So, I challenge you to ask yourself, "What have I done today to build the Air Force's foundation; what have I done to invest in my fellow Airmen?"