Airmen these days

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Cheryl L. Toner
  • 51st Fighter Wing Public Affairs
It's always funny to me when people say, "Airmen these days! They just aren't like the Airmen were when I came in the military." This, of course, is always said with disdain. Ironically, when crusty old master sergeants say that, well, they're right. When I came in the Air Force in the mid-80s, there were still people on active duty who were drafted.
And the old, "Yeah, the judge said the military or jail," was also not uncommon. So, yes, the Airmen in today's Air Force are different ... and that's not a bad thing. What's different is our philosophy on training and education. That's a good thing. 

Back then, feedback wasn't formalized upgrade training. It was something your supervisor did to you, not for you. Feedback wasn't a process, it was punishment. I remember at my first assignment our office spent a few months working half-days on Saturdays. 

From a two-striper's perspective -- and one who never had a "sit down" with her supervisor on expectations -- well, that was just punishment. We Airmen had no idea why we were working on Saturdays. We were just told, "Improve your areas." So, I broke out the all-purpose cleaner and started cleaning my desk. 

Another feedback session at the same assignment was after an aircraft accident. One of our bases' B-52 Stratofortresses crashed shortly after take-off. Thankfully, everyone survived the accident ... well, everyone on the aircraft. Meanwhile, back at the office, the captain went AWOL and the technical sergeant couldn't be found ... for days. That left a second lieutenant and five Airmen to deal with the news media. 

Our feedback? We were called into the wing commander's office and, while standing at attention, the only thing we were told was, "The next one of you who **** up is out of here! Now leave." 

This will always be burned in my brain. According to Air Force pamphlet 36-2241, "An important milestone in any subordinate' s development process is to experience a significant challenge early in his or her career." 

Well, at that time, I was the 18-year-old base newspaper editor with less than a year on active duty and virtually no experience. Surely, I thought, I was next. 

As supervisors, it is our job to foster growth. As Airmen, it is our job to help our supervisors do their jobs. Every Airman is responsible for some part of the process. It's not only our responsibility, but also makes sense. 

As former Commander of the U.S. Central Command Gen. H. Norman Schwartzkopf said, "People want to know what is expected of them. No one goes to work and says, 'I am going to do a lousy job today.' People work to succeed, and they need to know how you measure that success."
Now, back to my Saturdays and the aircraft crash: I really didn't want to do a lousy job. Yet, as feedback went those days, if my supervisor wasn't yelling at me, then I must have done OK. 

We all know that's a lousy way to provide feedback. It's also a recipe for failure. Everyone -- from the lowest ranking Airman to the person running the show -- is responsible for their part in providing feedback. If your supervisor isn't providing it, it's your job to ask for it. If the people who work for you aren't actively listening when you provide feedback, don't say another word until they break out a notepad and take notes. 

Ultimately you have control over your career and your personal and professional growth. You don't get a degree by accident; surely you won't be a better Airman by accident. The same applies to your Airmen. 

And anyone who asks how "Airmen these days" got into the military should remember that they, too, came into the Air Force young, inexperienced and bright-eyed. The question should be: "What are you doing to make it better?"