Learn to serve--literacy equals empowerment

  • Published
  • By Col. Calvin Williams
  • 75 Air Base WIng Vice Commander
"Your first priority is to learn and second is to serve, and don't ever mix the two up."

-- Gen. Curtis E. Lemay

As a nation it is important that we the people be lifelong learners. There was a time when reading was part of our lifestyle. Today, distractions such as television shows, movies, Internet surfing and e-mail have caused many to drift away from reading. However, we must be diligent in our reading, for literacy equals empowerment.

I'm convinced that learning through reading must be a way of life, for the absence of reading results in the lack of knowledge. Educational success and professional development begins with reading. It is the springboard for learning, which comes before all else. It enables all to grow: the leader, the follower and the organization.

To be an avid reader today, you have to work at it! Although work can be all-consuming, we must still make reading a priority. We must find time to pursue learning -- consume knowledge -- while encouraging our Wingman to do the same.

The first chief of staff of the separate Air Force, Gen. Carl "Tooey" Spaatz, as well as many other great Airmen in the past, were avid readers. They not only made time to read, but also used the newfound knowledge to understand their world as it was and to see the possibilities of what it could become.

To tackle the challenges of today, we must capture the knowledge of the past!

As leaders, we must encourage professional development by embracing self-improvement opportunities for our subordinates and ourselves. A leader or organization that's not learning is crippled daily. We owe it to our Wingman and ourselves to be "ready always" to serve in a higher capacity. If we truly believe Airmen are our most important weapon system, we must create an environment that fosters excellence and formally recognizes those who make learning "a lifestyle of learning."

Former Secretary of the Air Force, Michael W. Wynne, said, "We must maintain our intellectual superiority with lifelong ... (learning) for all Airmen -- officer ... enlisted (civilians and contractors)."

Learning begins with knowledge, moves to understanding, then results in service.

The 2009 Chief of Staff of the Air Force reading list can be found at