Airmen must adapt, achieve and learn in order to lead

commentary photo bio

Senior Airman William Tracy, 50th Space Wing Public Affairs Public Affairs Specialist. (U.S. Air Force photo by Kathryn Calvert)


As a junior enlisted Airman, I am expected to learn at every given opportunity and to grow as a follower to become a leader.

I believe to be an effective leader, you must first be an effective follower - and to do that one must humble oneself to the military way of life.

According to “the little brown book - ” Air Force Instruction 36-2618, The Enlisted Force Structure, junior enlisted should focus on “adapting to military requirements, achieving occupational proficiency and learning how to be highly productive members of the Air Force.”

I think the three key words from this statement are adapt, achieve and learn – I will explain how they suede me to become a leader through followership and my opinion on what Airmen can do to become better.


1. Adapt

The military is not just a job - it’s a career and lifestyle, complete with its own benefits, code of conduct and culture. The Air Force Core Values dictate our moral compass, and really is the core of our decision making – it should guide us to maintain integrity, selflessness and excellence in every aspect of our lives – from our most basic tasks to reporting abuse.  For some, joining the Air Force requires a rearrangement of our priorities. For me, it was definitely an adjustment as I often thought of myself and didn’t really look into what it truly meant to serve.

However, adjusting is different than adapting. While I adjusted to these values and the Air Force way of life, I am still fully adapting to letting it become part of myself – it is a slow process but I feel like the benefits of becoming a better person and Airman is worth it.


2.  Achieve

I believe growth is demonstrated primarily through achievements large and small. Often, the most fundamental achievements are our personal ones.

Before I joined the Air Force, I couldn’t look most people in the eye. Joining the military has improved my self-confidence. I am able to fall back on my achievements and find objective proof of personal progress. Because of my job, interviewing and photography has brought me out of my shell. I am able to make eye contact with interviewees which is essential to a successful interview. With photography, I am able to get close to my subject and stand in front of audiences to capture a group photo.

Airmen attain achievements in the course of their followership so they have a foundation of authority later on as leaders.  I believe it is crucial for every person to set goals and to get out of their shell. In many ways, it’s not achieving these goals that’s important as much as having them in the first place and aspiring to grow.


3. Learn

Out of all three key terms - learning is the most important to me. I believe the wanting to learn is necessary to becoming an effective follower and leader. Even when one becomes a leader, they must continue to learn; to strive to become more proficient in their skillsets, to become a better person and build on the foundation of their Comprehensive Airmen Fitness.

I often learn the hard way. I learned not to miss appointments, to separate work and life. I’ve hit lows like we all do but I learn my lesson and move on as a smarter person and a better Airman. We can never stop learning.


Leadership and followership are two sides of the same coin - its rim is adorned with our Core Values, its metal forged through Comprehensive Airmen Fitness.

While adapting, achieving and learning is key for myself as a junior Airman, it is essential for all of us to help ensure our branch remains the greatest Air Force known to man now and into the future.

As we head into the New Year, let us reflect on our accomplishments, continue to succeed and find ways each of us can become both effective leaders and followers. All of our resolutions should seek to improve these three aspects.