Some personal reflections on the Airman's Creed

  • Published
  • By Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Charles Cornelisse
  • 51st Fighter Wing chaplain

I'd like to spend a few minutes with you making some personal observations on The Airman's Creed. I hope you're getting familiar with it, because it is a wonderful standard for us to follow. 

I'll make my observations one section at a time, and then conclude with some final thoughts. 

Section 1: 

  I am an American Airman
  I am a warrior
  I have answered my nation's call

As American Airmen, we are called to be our nation's warriors. Some warriors are combatants, some are non-combatants, but all Airmen are called to be warriors. This calling is much more than a job, more than a career. For such a time as this, you and I have been divinely directed to be members of the world's most powerful Air Force. That means making sacrifices and, if need be, making the ultimate sacrifice. 

Section 2: 

  I am an American Airman
  My mission is to fly, fight and win
  I am faithful to a proud heritage
  A tradition of honor
  And a legacy of valor

Notice that this section of the creed is written in the present tense: 
  I AM an American Airman
  My mission IS ...
  I AM faithful...

In other words, this is who I am, what I know, what I've been taught, and what I am committed to living out. It carries almost the same weight as the oath of enlistment or commission, when we state, "I, (name given), solemnly swear..." 

While this is a personal, present-tense creed, it is also one that each of us commit to, not independently, but inter-dependently. All American Airman commit to accomplishing the mission and faithfully upholding our heritage with honor and valor every day we are granted breath. 

Section 3: 

  I am an American Airman
  Guardian of freedom and justice
  My nation's sword and shield
  Its sentry and avenger
  I defend my country with my life

Guardian ... Sword ... Shield ... Sentry ... Avenger 

Wow, what a powerful package of protective principles! Did you realize you are all of these things? The term Guardian appears to be the operative principle here, with the others falling under and within that concept. As Guardians we are called to protect and defend our nation's freedom and justice, conducting ourselves as a Sword, Shield, Sentry and Avenger. The first three principles, I think, are easily understood: to be a Sword of integrity, a Shield of professional excellence, and always standing selflessly vigilant as a Sentry, in defense of our country. 

The fourth term, Avenger, requires a bit more reflection. To the best of my knowledge, there is not a commentary that came with The Airman's Creed, and I find this refreshing. We are given flexibility to discuss and live out this creed according to our Air Force core values. But the term "avenger" must be carefully and correctly defined, lest we arrogantly risk acting as if "vengeance is mine." 

There are other "avenger" references that may come to mind that do not refer to the "vengeance is mine" mentality, such as the comic book, the '60s British TV show, or a rock music group. But the Air Force isn't a comic book, TV show, or rock band; we are an armed service of the United States and the words we speak in The Airman's Creed are powerful. 

Any vengeance that you and I take as Airmen, I believe, must come in the form of being avengers on behalf of our nation, righting wrongs committed against our nation and its interests. This is quite clearly stated in this section, as it states, "I am ... my nation's ... avenger; I defend my country with my life." 

Section 4: 

  I am an American Airman
  Wingman, leader, warrior
  I will never leave an Airman behind
  I will never falter
  And I will not fail 

This final section resounds with the words of our commander in chief, President George W. Bush, when he ended an October 7, 2001, speech with these words, "We will not waver; we will not tire; we will not falter; and we will not fail. Peace and freedom will prevail." Basically, I hear the creed saying that there is no wiggle room for failing to be there for each other. 

We commit ourselves to winning every war, accomplishing every task, succeeding in every mission, together ... period. If our goals are anything less than that, then we have failed not only ourselves, but more importantly, our fellow Airmen. We must daily commit ourselves to be wingmen, leaders and warriors who are always caring and competent professionals. 

Yet we will know failure, we will falter; perhaps not in the larger tests of life when our search and rescue teams are rescuing a downed pilot, but in the day-to-day tasks that we perform. We will fall short for various reasons and at various levels. And we will falter in our relationships and behavior. That's when we must all be flight leads and wingmen who are standing by ready to support, correct and admonish as necessary to ensure that no American Airman is ever left behind. 

May God help you and me answer our nation's call today, and every day, as faithful American Airmen - wingmen, warriors, leaders - always ready to defend our country with our lives.