Have you really joined the Air Force yet?

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. David Wolfe
  • JBER-E PME Center Commandant
For those of us in uniform, particularly enlisted members, memories of how we came to be in the military are fairly easy to call to mind - whether the process was more than 20 years ago, or closer to 20 months ago.

As I recall the experience, that trip to the Military Entrance Processing Station was a time of many emotions. Fear of the unknown?

Yes. Apprehension and confusion about the process? Sure.

But also, there was hope for a new and better life; a life with meaning and a life as part of something greater.

A critical part of that experience was the oath of enlistment, where each of us swore to support and defend our Constitution, to do what we were told, and defend our country against all enemies - with our lives, if need be.

At the moment we each repeated that oath, we willingly committed to a larger purpose.

Knowingly or unknowingly, each of us made a conscious decision to place the needs of others above the desire for self-service.

But regardless of how long ago we first took that oath and made that commitment verbally, and therefore enlisted, that was not the moment we truly joined the Air Force.

Let me explain.

Joining the Air Force is different than simply raising your right hand and repeating an oath to a complete stranger.

At some point, after deciphering countless acronyms, working longer (or tougher) hours than many civilian counterparts, and educated by right and wrong examples of doing things, each Airman comes to a decision point: Do I join the Air Force, or not?

Joining the Air Force is a moment - some might call it an "a-ha!" moment  - when things start to come together in a clearer picture.

This can happen literally in a moment, or for some, it may build over time. But when the Air Force becomes a lifestyle - rather than just a job - that's when a person truly has joined.

So what does a "joined" Airman look like, specifically?

It's not something you can put into a checklist.

It's an attitude ... a way of carrying yourself that translates into observable positive traits.

When work needs to be done and the normal duty day is over, a joined Airman is found at his desk, at his aircraft, or in the supply room, for example - getting it done.

When there is a tough job that no one wants, that Airman makes eye contact, unafraid, and raises his hand.

When the time comes to discuss a controversial change or something "they" want us to do, the joined Airman executes regardless of his personal opinion.
But that's not where he stops.

He has built a reputation and enjoys the respect of his leaders. So after the task is done, he provides constructive feedback and a solution to help his leaders see the blind spots and make a better decision the next time. A joined Airman knows all the answers to the PT test, and studies for it often.

A joined Airman walks in the door with a purpose, asks how she can help, and what she can do to make the lives of others better.

A joined Airman realizes, as she climbs the ladder of promotion, that one of her tasks has become replacing herself - so she strives to make others better and more knowledgeable by providing regular mentorship.

This Airman completes the mission but still makes time to volunteer and seek further education.

She feeds on positive energy and surrounds herself with positive people, building resilience against tougher times.

Because there will always be speed bumps, ditches, and roadblocks along the journey.

But joined Airmen have already built, and continuously maintain, a support network.

And they are a part of the support network for others.

Joining the Air Force involves action, as well as a deeper commitment to the profession of arms. It means taking those words in our Core Values seriously by following through on obligations to others.

Looking back on my 21-year career, I now realize my first enlistment was just a step on the way to joining the Air Force.

So my question remains: have you joined the Air Force yet? If you have, what can you do to recruit more joined Airmen? 

What have you decided?  I hope you'll join.

The Air Force needs you.