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Monkey see, monkey do

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Atticus C. Smith
  • 388th Fighter Wing
Put your hat on! PUT YOUR HAT ON NOW! The senior NCO's voice sent chills through my body. Without thinking, I checked myself to ensure I was within standards.

This was the start of an inside look into Air Force Basic Military Training, where my good friend, Master Sgt. John Stott, served as a military training instructor. It was day four of training, and he was "pushing" his first flight. Forty-six trainees were beginning their transformation to become Airmen. Sergeant Stott had the tough responsibility to lead that transformation.

The surroundings haven't changed much but the training certainly has: trainees carrying their mock M-16s, mud and sweat on their tired faces. The Airman's Creed was posted in several areas, no doubt an obligation to memorize. Although only in day four, Sergeant Stott's trainees recited our creed without fail. Everywhere we went, sounds of MTIs enforcing standards were heard ... development in action, one of the Air Force's five priorities.

How intimate a person is with each priority varies, but the majority of our force is involved with our Airmen's development. I was impressed with my visit. MTIs dedicate their lives to properly developing our future Airmen. In my opinion, the MTIs produce professional Airmen who are proud, committed, motivated and excited to be called an Airman. However, this contradicts many statements often made by frontline supervisors.

Often, I hear our mid-level leaders complain about today's Airmen. They state they are disrespectful, unmotivated or lack discipline. Personally, I don't understand. Our force recruits the best of society. We haven't dropped any recruiting standards, and statistically our recruits have the highest Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery scores compared to other services. In short, we get the cream of the crop. This, coupled with the hard fact that our MTIs do a fantastic job establishing a solid foundation to build upon, leads me to question why some people have poor impressions of today's Airmen. Pondering this, I reflected on a discussion I had during my visit.

Shortly after Sergeant Stott told a trainee how to stand at attention, he made an interesting point. He stated that, without fail, flights begin to mirror their instructor. Therefore, he always has to maintain a line of acceptable conduct. He cannot let up on enforcement of standards, accept mediocrity, display a poor attitude, a poor uniform, act unprofessional, etc. In short, the members of his flight will develop into what they see.

Does this relationship exist beyond BMT? Absolutely! Is this where things go astray with today's Airmen? Are they just mirroring their leadership?

Frontline leaders are responsible to continue the same high standards and level of discipline that is instilled in our Airmen. Sometimes, this isn't being done.

Many of us remember our own transition into our first unit.

When I arrived at my first assignment, I called a buck sergeant "sir," and was scolded. Till this day, similar situations occur.

A new Airman reports to work, stands at modified parade rest, and the NCO or senior NCO says, "relax, you don't need to do that." This immediately lowers their standards.

We'd rather forget about the discipline and formalities, because apparently that's how the "real Air Force" operates.

Today, some supervisors tend not to enforce standards, and they accept mediocrity because they don't want to be too tough on their Airmen. Some supervisors don't support members of their own unit. Many find themselves "too busy" to attend formal events and ceremonies. If our Airmen see that they're not cared about, what makes you think they'll care about you?

Today, many supervisors blatantly undermine core programs. Statements such as "forget everything you learned in technical school" (or First Term Airman Center or Airman Leadership School or NCO Academy), sends an inappropriate message. Today's seasoned supervisors often complain about how the Air Force operates and don't fully accept the warrior ethos mindset.

For younger Airmen, especially all that volunteered to serve after 9/11, it's the only Air Force they know, so they don't understand why their leaders complain.

These examples are not what we want our Airmen mirroring.

Whether or not you supervise Airmen, the image you project either sets the tone for success or is a detriment to effective operations. In the context of developing our Airmen, we can ill afford to project or accept an undisciplined, lackadaisical or uncaring force.

How's your image?

Bring credit and honor to the Air Force and take care of each other in all your actions.