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The value of an Airman

Posted 12/14/2012   Updated 12/14/2012 Email story   Print story

    


Commentary by Lt. Col. Sarah Christ
341st Civil Engineer Squadron commander


12/14/2012 - MALMSTROM AIR FORCE BASE, Mont. -- This wing is ready, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to defend America through the deployment of the most devastating weapon on the planet. Our presence alone gives our enemies pause and our allies assurance that our Commander in Chief's words are backed with nuclear deterrence. Beyond the weapons standing at the ready in the missile complex, there's another weapon here that is just as effective and important: Airmen.

There are heroes all around you on this base who are ready to defend our nation. They will prevent attacked by all means necessary, walk into burning buildings, handle unsafe ordnance and drive through blizzards on wintry roads to get their job done. A few weeks ago, Team Malmstrom members responded to a possible dangerous chemical leak at a launch facility. Security forces members secured the site, 341st Mission Support Group members provided shelter, food and decontamination capabilities, 341st Medical Group members ensured no one on site was exposed to any dangerous compounds and 341st Maintenance Group members were prepared to fix the leak if one was present. To accomplish the 341st Missile Wing mission, it takes the whole team. We cannot afford to lose even one Airman to circumstances, which could have been avoided.

With such a diverse work environment, maintaining standards is extremely important. When we live by a standard, we help establish our culture of military uniqueness. Common standards unite us by defining our values and what we expect from each other. When we adhere to standards, what we're really doing is building trust amongst ourselves. We all know "that person" who cuts corners and breaks rules; how much trust do you put in them? Would you trust them with your life? Should you trust them to defend this country?

Lately, Malmstrom and the Air Force have emphasized standards that need attention.

First, there's professionalism and respect. By now, you may have heard the Chief of Staff of the Air Force's direction to commanders to conduct health and welfare inspections of their units to determine our current standard in the workplace related to respect, trust and professionalism. These inspections aren't about eliminating the unique character of the workplace, they're about ensuring that our work environment enables Airmen to feel safe and valuable. They're also not a "witch hunt;" rather, they're about determining what our standard is and then adjusting it, if necessary. As a female with 18 years in the military, I've tolerated some offensive comments or "funny" pictures in the workplace. I believe the Malmstrom workplace needs to be professional, but this is an opportunity to take another look and improve wherever we need to.

So...what's driving this? Is the Air Force afraid of the ramifications of offending someone? Are we just trying to avoid Equal Opportunity complaints and congressional inquiries? There's more to it than that. Like I said earlier, it takes every one of us to get the job done, and we need to have complete trust in each other. If our standard for respect, trust and professionalism in the workplace is not at the right level, Airmen cannot perform at their best and there may be no trust. Worse yet, we will have set the scene for an unsafe work environment. We can't afford to lose an Airman who is a "full-up round" to something, which is so easily corrected (and the right thing to do).

The other standards the wing has emphasized relate to safety. I speak from experience when I say that the loss of an Airman due to a preventable mishap is unbearable. That was my Airman's motorcycle in Col. H.B. Brual, 341st MW commander's safety stand down slides last Thursday. We lost that Airman in June. In October, another of my Airmen committed suicide. Both of them left behind grieving families and friends. They also left behind gaping holes in my squadron's ability to support the mission. When we lose an Airman, it stops the squadron in its tracks and keeps us from performing at our best, or simply performing at all. Our jobs are inherently dangerous. We accept that when the mission dictates; but don't accept it when there is a better choice that can be made.
Take standards seriously. Airmen are too valuable to the mission to lose. Every Airman must be able to perform at their best every day, and it is leadership's responsibility to provide an environment that enables all Airmen to live and perform at their fullest.



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