By Chief Master Sgt. James Laurent, 35th Fighter Wing command chief
/ Published March 27, 2012
MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan --
I recently attended a retirement ceremony for a Navy friend who was making his last trip ashore after nearly 30 years of service. This ceremony was a little different than I am used to. Obviously there are Navy traditions that made the day special for him, but more than that, was who he asked to speak at the ceremony. One by one each of his three children, now adults, came to the mic to speak about their mom, their dad and "his" Navy. They were very proud of their parents' service, but also very proud of the Navy he is leaving behind as he retired. This made me wonder, as many others probably did, what would my children say? Not just about me, but about "my" Air Force. I think they would be proud. Over time they too have come to see the Air Force as theirs just as I have. But with ownership comes responsibility.
A few years ago my teenage daughter, who is now a college student, taught me a lesson. We were headed to the base theater to watch a movie and as we were walking toward the ticket line, she noticed something and said a little under her breath, "That is just wrong." I looked to see what she was talking about and saw four Airmen disappearing into the theater wearing ABU pants and long sleeve black t-shirts with some print on them. That was it, no hat, no ABU blouse, just half a uniform and an unauthorized t-shirt. Others saw it and said nothing, yet my 17-year-old, who lived under the roof of her First Sergeant father, was disappointed in these Airmen. She knew the reputation of Airmen like her father and the Air Force was dependent on these Airmen, Airmen who lacked the self-discipline to properly wear our uniform and did so in a public place like the base theater.
Self-discipline is essential in our profession...we develop it during basic training and continue to let it grow throughout our careers. Self-discipline is that inner compass. We are guided by it, often without knowing, so when challenges come we choose the right path and not the easy path. It is something that keeps us from staining the reputation of those who went before us and those who will serve after us. The headlines show not all service members believe this. From the burning of Korans to urinating on dead Taliban, in my opinion, a lack of self-discipline allows these to happen. If just one person would have said, "No, this is not what a professional, disciplined force does," the headlines might read differently.
Self-discipline should be something we practice daily and I believe it is rooted in pride of ownership. Pride in knowing we are wearing the uniform properly, saluting, following our TOs and doing the absolute best job we can. Airmen who allow those areas to falter often have an easier time ignoring the guidance laid out in our core values and will make bad choices with even greater consequences later. I have yet to meet the Airman who was arrested for DUI, got an Article 15 or who was court-martialed and said they were proud of what they did. Instead of ownership, they wished it hadn't happened. Instead of pride, they were embarrassed. And they all knew, with just a little self-discipline, the "headlines" would be different.
Our Air Force depends on self-disciplined Airmen. Airmen who take ownership of the profession we are honored to be a member of, and who, along with their families and friends are proud of what they are doing. This is what makes us the very best America has to offer.
As we left the theater after the movie, I told my family to go ahead; I would catch up in a minute. My daughter looked at me, smiled, but said nothing. She knew what I was doing. There were four Airmen I couldn't find earlier who needed a little guidance. Not just on the wearing of our uniform, but more importantly, on how their actions detract from the reputation and service of other Airmen. I ended our encounter by thanking them and telling them my family and I are very proud of their service. As I walked away, my daughter was still watching. I think she was proud that day, not just of her dad, but of her Air Force.