PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. --
From day one in our Air Force careers, we discuss the challenge of how to balance the mission and our people. “Mission first, people always,” or, “take care of your people and they’ll take care of the mission,” are common schools of thought. But one thing is certain – our core value of service before self is the center focus regardless of which theory you subscribe to. Our people sacrifice daily by giving every ounce of what they have to accomplish the mission because it’s our way of life, and our freedom depends on it.
I believe that, deep down, we all want to put service before self. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t have joined the world’s greatest Air Force. However, I think that some of us misinterpret what that really means.
Service before self does not mean that we have to keep our struggles to ourselves. It does not mean that we have to do everything on our own. It does not mean that we push ourselves to the point of breaking.
We can’t give what we don’t have, so sometimes service before self means putting yourself first so you can make sure you’re OK.
We need every single one of you to be OK.
Sometimes, that means asking for help. I know that asking for help can be terrifying. It can make anyone feel vulnerable. Naturally, we don’t want our peers to think we can’t do it all, or we can’t handle it all, or we can’t be it all. But the reality is, no one can. We all need help in some area of our lives.
Leaders and coworkers at all levels, it is up to you to create an environment where Airmen don’t feel terrified to ask you for help. During a recent resiliency tactical pause in my own unit, I learned that despite how hard we push the importance of going to leaders and helping agencies for assistance, Airmen still feel there are lingering negative connotations for asking for help. However, my Airmen also explained that hearing about others who had real problems, received help and recovered are inspirational. Stories like that help them understand that it’s okay to ask for help.
A few years ago, I had to ask for help. I was at a point in my career where I received a one-year school opportunity. My family and I made a difficult decision for me to PCS alone and leave my family in place for stability. What we didn’t know at the time is that toward the end of that year we’d lose my wife’s father, my grandfather and our family dog each to cancer and that I’d be selected for a subsequent one-year remote squadron command, all within two months. These events challenged myself and my family to say the least, but I reached out to one of my former squadron commanders. He and his wife spent a lot of time coaching my family and helping us walk through how to heal and deal with these types of issues. They’d been there too.
Yes, all of our plates are full. Yes, we all have dozens of taskers that all seem to demand our attention right this second. But we have got to make the time to truly build relationships with our Airmen. We need to know our Airmen well enough that we can tell just by looking at them that they’re having a bad day, and then we need to take the time to do something about it. We need to genuinely care about them, and they need to be able to tell that we do.
An Airman who thinks their leadership doesn’t care about them as a person is an Airman who begins to think they don’t matter. And let me just tell you myself – you all matter. You are all necessary. We need you.
I think that the resiliency tactical pause was a fantastic idea, and we need to take it seriously. If we approach this as just another box we need to check and our Airmen can tell we’re just checking a box, then we are not meeting General Goldfein’s intent. I believe his intent is for us to truly take a breath, use that time to foster our relationships with one another and incorporate these types of events into our culture for lasting improvement.
So take time regularly for those relationships, and don’t just read from training material. Look one another in the eyes and have a real conversation. Talk about what’s hard, what you’re struggling with, what brings you joy. Find some common ground, and connect with one another because real relationships are what show us that we matter and what make all the difficult parts of this life we’ve chosen worth it.
Anyone seeking additional support can call 719-552-HELP, Colorado Crisis Services at 1-844-493-8255 or text “TALK” to 38255.