It’s okay to act like a baby

  • Published
  • By CMSgt. Atticus C. Smith
  • Command Chief, 388th Fighter Wing
If given the chance to travel back in time I'd like to go back to the adventures of the American West, the days of the frontier exploration. I'm not too sure why, maybe it's because I grew up watching "Little House on the Prairie." That period in our history wasn't all that comfortable as evidenced by this excerpt from an anonymous settler writing in the St. Joseph, Missouri GAZETTE. The settler reflects on 'life on the trail': "To enjoy such a trip ... a man must be able to endure heat like a salamander, mud and water like a muskrat, dust like a toad, and labor like a jackass. He must learn to eat with his unwashed fingers, drink out of the same vessel as his mules, sleep on the ground when it rains, share his blanket with vermin, and have patience with mosquitoes ... he must cease to think, except of where he may find grass and water and a good camping place. It is hardship without glory."

Certainly not a very fun time but I want to go back. A thought I was reminded of recently.

On a nice Saturday morning I went for a run through base housing. As I transitioned from the open road to the sidewalk, I approached a lady pushing a baby stroller. The sidewalk was more than wide enough for both of us, and when I was about 40 feet away I noticed a baby girl, maybe two years old, sitting up in the stroller grasping the cushioned bar in front of her. At about ten feet away something special and depressing happened all within about five seconds.

As I approached the cute baby girl she raised her little left hand as if she was waving and her face lit up with a big, ear-to-ear grin. Ahhh, how sweet is that? At this point I was just nearing the stroller so I looked up, waved hello to the adult and enthusiastically said "good morning!" Here's the depressing part. Not one peep. No wave, no words, no eye contact, nothing! This wasn't an anomaly.

Whenever I run, whether it's on the streets or trails, I always say hello to people. At best, I'd say it's 50/50 if they respond. At what point in our recent history have we strayed from common courtesy? Did it start with the onset of the internet and e-mail? Or was it texting? Maybe Myspace and Facebook? Are we, as a society, so independent of one another that we don't even say hello. I'm positive it wasn't that way on the Frontier.

Back then, people depended on one another for their well-being. Talking with and supporting each other was the norm. My gosh, life would literally depend on face-to-face interaction with each other! Could you imagine two covered wagons approaching each other on the trail and neither party saying anything to one another? I'm not an American West historian but I'm confident it just didn't happen.

In the context of leadership engagement, talking with and supporting each other is just as important, and quite frankly the well-being of our airmen depends on it. In the past year, I have lost count as to how many airmen have told me that they don't receive nearly the feedback and mentorship they long for. They travel on trails with so many other people yet, day-in and day-out, people pass each other without even a mere acknowledgment. Now more than ever, I'm convinced it's okay to act like a baby.

Make eye contact with a stranger, say hello. Invite yourself to an airman's table at the dining facility. Engage in a conversation while at the Military Personnel Facility, waiting for a haircut, or while at the gym. Attend a Top III or Rising 6 meeting to share your experiences and meet other airmen. Begin each day asking your airmen how they are versus immediately jumping into work related tasks. Incorporate weekly, if not daily roll calls into your ops tempo. Use those roll calls to look your airmen in the eyes, have them share one or two things about themselves that no one in the shop knows, or conduct a uniform inspection then recognize the "best dressed." Yes, we're all very busy; however, if we allow time with our Airmen to dry up, it will. What's your level of people engagement? If it's taken a back seat, take that first baby step, and hop back on your saddle.

Bring credit and honor to the United States Air Force and take care of each other in all your actions.