Definition of an Airman - The Choice is Yours

  • Published
  • By Maj. Kenyatta H. Ruffin
  • 51st Fighter Wing director of staff
I recently had a discussion with a group of my peers regarding what it means to be an Airman and whether or not the Airman's Creed captures it.

The debate that ensued was certainly epic, but the conclusion was even more extraordinary. This commentary briefly highlights this debate and shares how I define being an American Airman.

The Airman's Creed
The Airman's Creed was instituted by the chief of staff of the Air Force in 2007 to unify Airmen under an all-encompassing, single mission revolving around being a "wingman, leader and warrior." For a variety of reasons, this credo has not been universally embraced by all Airmen - if you don't believe me, ask five Airmen of various ranks to recite the Airman's Creed and see how many can. Yet, there are principles contained in the Creed and characteristics of being an Airman that ring true from the earliest dreamers of airpower through today.

Primary Foundation: The Core Values
Integrity, service, excellence. To borrow from General MacArthur, these three hallowed words should reverberate in your soul and guide you toward what you can be, what you will be, and what you must be. As we all know, the Air Force is facing a multitude of challenges and our core values provide the solutions to these problems. Unquestioned integrity, embracing the needs of the unit and mission ahead of personal desires, and a commitment to give your best is what the Air Force needs from every active duty, guard, reserve and civilian Airman in our force. Former CSAF General Gabriel may have said it best when he said, "Integrity is the fundamental premise for military service in a free society. Without integrity, the moral pillars of our military strength, public trust and self-respect are lost."

One Team, One Fight!
A large part of the consternation on this debate of defining an Airman revolved around Air Force specialty codes, or one's job and role. For better and worse, the Air Force is a service comprised of highly trained specialists and thus it is hard to find a singular definition of an Airman. However, when the question is simplified and clarified - what is one's duty as an Airman - the answer becomes much clearer: fight and win our nation's wars period, dot. Certainly, each Airman's role in this process is significantly varied, but there is absolutely no division in one's mission and responsibility as an Airman. Here at Osan and in the Republic of Korea, our focus on "fight tonight" and "deter, defend, defeat" is abundantly clear. Likewise, wherever you are and whatever you do in our Air Force, your individual responsibilities contribute to a much greater whole that is collectively known as "airpower."

"Airman-Warrior" equals Airmindedness
The Air Force recently released a document titled "Global Vigilance, Global Reach, Global Power for America" (GV-GR-GP) that explains airpower and "airmindedness" - the two essential elements of an Airman's warrior ethos. It states, "Whereas pre- Kitty Hawk warriors relied on breaking through fortified lines on the ground, Airmen have always sought to go over, not through, those fortifications to defeat our enemies and achieve the Nation's objectives." Later, it says, "This spirit of innovation, of seeing problems from an alternative perspective, is in our culture, in our heritage, and in every Airman." Airmindedness lends itself to the perspective that every day we show up to work, we are in a "fight," though we may not be waging war. Can I perform this task better, can I do that more efficiently and effectively? A true Airman does not accept "it has always has been done this way" nor abandon the challenge of improving a system or process. Courage to make a difference, accountability with one's fellow Airmen, and a laser-sharp focus on mission accomplishment that is unconstrained by current paradigms exuberates airmindedness and defines an Airman.

Defining an Airman - It's Up to You
There is no need for debate regarding the Airman's Creed or the definition of Airman because that question can only fully be answered by the behaviors of each individual member of the formation. The Airman's Creed begins, "I am an American Airman," and only you can give that statement meaning and truth. I suggest that being an Airman begins with the core values because they are just that - at the center of every word and deed. Next, recognizing that I contribute to a bigger team and a grander mission than what's right in front of me inspires me not to falter and not to fail. Finally, being an Airman breeds an innovative passion to improve and a mindset that is unhindered by obstacles because I know I can always "go over, not through" them.

Now, for the challenge: how do you define being an Airman and how will you live that out today? Whatever your response, I'm sure it will come from a tradition of honor and a legacy of valor, for you are an American Airman. Aim high!