Money's tight...we need a cost free way of Taking Care of Airmen

  • Published
  • By CMSgt Atticus C. Smith
  • Command Chief, 388th Fighter Wing
The Air Force's reputation of taking care of airmen is unyielding. Ask any senior leader what their priorities are and without fail, taking care of airmen is on the list. In fact, when asked during the 2009 Air Force Association Air and Space Conference what their top concern is, five MAJCOM command chiefs and Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force James Roy all agreed that taking care of airmen was at the top; however what does "taking care of airmen" really mean?

Many people often equate quality of life programs with taking care of people, and rightfully so. Typical examples include a safe workplace, adequate housing on and off base as well as the dorms, childcare, libraries, fitness centers, and pre/post deployment services. These programs take a hefty amount of money to carry out and the Air Force consistently fights for funding. Sometimes, it's hard for many senior leaders not to associate a price tag with quality of life programs; however, a program that would top my priority list costs nothing. Interestingly though, without this free program it will cost the Air Force millions of dollars, even lives.

Makes a good trivia question doesn't it? What quality of life program directed towards taking care of airmen costs nothing but without it, costs lives? Tough question but the answer is simple...discipline. Not many people associate discipline with taking care of airmen. In fact, many people attach a negative connotation with the word discipline. In his book, The DNA of Leadership, Brigadier General (ret) Dick Abel writes that discipline is the positive molding of our lives that produces good character. He further contends that it is behavior that results in self-control, and acting in accordance with rules and regulations. So how does discipline tie into taking care of airmen and our quality of life? Examples are all around us.

Noticing airmen who do not routinely use their seatbelt, reflective belt, steel toes boots, protective gear or follow tech data requires us to positively mold them to create a habit. Creating a habit for them to behave within established rules could potentially save them from injury or death. Another example is to ensure Airmen meet and exceed our fitness standards. It should be no surprise that some airmen are grossly out of shape. Being the person to enforce standards, establish a "get well" plan, and hold people accountable (a.k.a. discipline) is looking out for our airmen. Being fit spans numerous aspects of our lives to include morale, welfare, and health safety. An example I recently dealt directly with was tracking down and holding a handful of Airmen accountable for trashing a dormitory. These seven-10 airmen must be taught a lesson (disciplined) to understand that their actions negatively affect a community of responsible airmen who deserve a clean, safe, quality living environment.

Creating a culture of discipline is the ultimate 'cost free' program of taking care of our airmen. Discipline shouldn't merely be associated with people getting into trouble. It should be viewed as an opportunity to positively mold a person. At times it requires some administrative action but the ultimate goal is always to enhance a person's character. Quality of life and taking care of our airmen doesn't always entail a hefty price tag; in fact the majority of the time it entails being a strong leader who sets and enforces high standards and holds people accountable.

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