A Thrift Store Suit at the Oscars

  • Published
  • By CMSgt Atticus C. Smith
  • Command Chief, 388th Fighter Wing
Some combinations don't go together. In my short tenure as a command chief, I've learned quite a few; here are five: A Monday without 27 e-mails by 0800. A day without a meeting. Being in control of my own schedule. An easy day for a first sergeant. Getting good news phone calls from the command post.

These combinations are not necessarily all that notable but what about attending a 4-star's retirement dinner...an "Oscar award-like" event wearing a suit from a thrift store? Does that combination go together?

Since becoming a command chief, the most prestigious event I've attended was the retirement of General Corley; Commander of Air Combat Command. Coupled with this event are several social events that pay appreciation to General Corley as well as to welcome the new ACC commander, General Fraser. The "A-list" included a former secretary of the Air Force, various high-level civilian leaders as well as numerous one, two, and three star generals. I guess the list isn't too surprising since there were several four star generals in attendance, one being our current Air Force Chief of Staff, General Schwartz. The dress code for these social events dictated "coat and tie," so who arrived with a thrift store suit?

No one would attend the "Oscars" wearing thrift store clothing, would they? I'm not certain how many did but I know at least one person that did. Me. Yes, that's right; yours truly. Why would I? It's not a money issue; I have enough money to afford a new suit. I simply enjoy shopping at thrift stores; it's been something that I was raised to do. I grew up as the youngest of four boys, I either wore hand-me-downs or my mom took me to the thrift store. In my adult life, I kept the thrift store trend going; however, this article isn't about the benefits of thrift store shopping.

During my chief recognition ceremony, the "Chiefs' Creed" was read. This was before we adopted the Airman's Creed. No chief in the room recited the Chiefs' Creed, the emcee just read it and the ceremony moved on; however, one particular line stuck out to me. It stated, "Chiefs will not lose their identity in a crowd." Our individuality is what makes us unique, it's what makes serving in the Armed Forces special. We meet people from all walks of life, raised with different values, ethics, varying goals and aspirations, learning styles, and personalities. All of us must operate within acceptable boundaries of integrity, ethics, and professionalism but as leaders we must be positive forces to demonstrate acceptance of people's individualities, and these individualities can make leading people very difficult.

It's easy to lead or work with people who act or "look" the same as you but what about the people who don't? Like our youngest generation of Airmen, how will you connect with them? Do you even try? Some of us may get a bit cynical about our youngest generation because training young men and women into good Airmen takes tremendous work and patience. Some of them require much more work than others. I know that early in my career there were many that had their doubts about me. Like it or not, we have to recognize that in this generation of Airmen lies the future enlisted and maybe even officer leadership of our Air Force. Some of you are thinking, "If Airman so and so is the future, we're in big trouble." Those are the exact thoughts you need to expel from your minds.

You need to see the goodness in these wonderful Airmen that have answered the call to serve their country during a time of war... something most of us didn't do. If you're a parent, think about your children. At times I'm sure they get on your very last nerve but you love them anyway. And you're dedicated to growing them into decent human beings. Our youngest Airmen are no less worthy. So what's my message? It really isn't a message as much as it's a plea. For our leaders and supervisors; our youngest generation has been given to you...to grow, develop, mentor and respect. They're in your care. Despite their individualities and how different they might be from us, your success ultimately will not be defined by your individual accomplishments; it will be measured by what you do for them.

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