Developing the next generation of Airmen

  • Published
  • By Senior Master Sgt. Thomas Rising
  • 726th Air Mobility Squadron
Currently, there are approximately 307,000 active duty Airmen in the United States Air Force, according to the Air Force Personnel Center. Each of these individuals recited the Oath of Office or Oath of Enlistment for a variety of reasons. Some wished to honor a family tradition, while others answered the call to serve their nation. Regardless of the reason, less than one half of one percent of all Americans volunteer to serve.

Many of today's Airmen began their career after September 11, 2001, spending their entire commission or enlistment fighting the War on Terror. Frequently, Airmen sacrifice time away from loved ones, miss holidays and memorable family occasions, and live in austere locations to ensure the United States remains the most powerful nation in the world. While the Air Force has experienced significant changes over the past fourteen years, the one thing that has not changed is the Airmen's willingness and ability to execute the mission!

The most powerful resource in the United States Air Force is not a fifth generation fighter, newest air re-fueling tanker, or state-of-the-art medical facilities. Rather, it is the highly motivated and specialized Airmen who work relentlessly around the clock to ensure America's dominance in air, space, and cyberspace. The Air Force's continued success relies heavily on developing the next generation of Airmen. Such a task is to be accomplished by enforcing standards, providing truthful feedback, and promoting innovation.  

This endeavor might begin by truthfully assessing yourself using Air Force Instruction 1-1, which applies an overview of the Air Force environment, conduct, and appearance.

Do you live by the Air Force core values of integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all we do? Do you understand the Oath of Office, or Oath of Enlistment? Do you appreciate and enforce customs and courtesies? Do you know the Airman's Creed, and Air Force Song? If you answered "no" to any of these questions, then it might serve as a foundation to start your self-assessment. Furthermore, once you identify with Air Force Instruction 1-1, challenge other Airmen to do the same. 
Early in my career, I received feedback from a technical sergeant who stated, "What you allow to happen in your presence is your standard." Over the years, I have interpreted such a statement to mean that if an Airman needs a haircut it is your responsibility to remind them. If an Airman does not have a technical manual to work on an aircraft, you need to stop them before they damage equipment or injure themselves. As an institution, we cannot afford less! That same technical sergeant recently retired as a chief master sergeant. He was not my friend. He was my supervisor and mentor. He enforced standards, knew his job, and took every opportunity to provide honest face-to-face feedback. For these and other reasons, I will always respect chief. 

The Air Force is getting leaner, faster, and smarter. Airmen today are more educated than ever. We must capitalize on our strengths and promote innovation. Leaders at every level must support and encourage Airmen to bring ideas to the table that challenge the status quo. Airmen should seek out inefficiencies and formulate original solutions to enhance the Air Force. According to the Air Force website,, innovative ideas submitted by Airmen since the launch of the "Airman Powered by Innovation" program are projected to save the Air Force at least $35 million.  

The United States Air Force is the most powerful Air Force in the world. Airmen of the future will face unique challenges never imagined by Airmen of the past. It is our responsibility as leaders at every level to prepare and develop Airmen for these aforementioned challenges. Will you continue to bring innovative ideas and streamline processes to your workplace? Who knows, perhaps one of the readers of this article will serve as a future chief of staff or chief master sergeant of the Air Force? Leading Airmen and preparing our Air Force to meet the challenges of tomorrow is where it all begins. Do you have the fortitude to give honest feedback to your Airmen, much like the chief did for me and for many others? Living by the core values, enforcing standards, and holding others accountable for their actions or inactions is an effective and valuable place to start.