‘Airman’ gives insight into perceptions

Erin Zagursky
1st Fighter Wing Public Affairs

‘Public affairs, Erin Zagursky’ is my standard phone-answering line, but the reply I get is never standard.
Many people call me ‘ma’am’ and some call me ‘Ms. Zagursky’ However, people most often respond to my telephone greeting by saying, ‘Hi, Airman Zagursky.’
The first few times this happened, I was quick to correct the callers, realizing it is easy to mistake my first name for ‘Airman.’
Eventually, I stopped correcting callers, because hearing what people would say after they called me ‘Airman’ gave me a unique insight into what it must feel like to have a few stripes on my sleeves.
Most callers treat me with the same respect as they would if they knew I was actually a civilian. They are polite and patient, kind and respectful.
Other callers treat me better than I would be treated if they knew I was a civilian. As an Airman, I’m part of the club. A sister in arms. A fellow bluesuiter.
But there are those callers who treat me, sadly, in the same way I imagine they treat all Airmen.
They talk slowly and with very small words to make sure I understand exactly what they say. They make me repeat messages to ensure I don’t mess anything up. Or, they immediately dismiss any help I may offer and ask for someone who knows what’s going on.
I am always amazed by these people.
The Airmen I work with are amazing professionals. One of them won Air Combat Command’s new writer of the year, and the other taught me almost everything I need to know about media operations at the wing.
I know my situation isn’t unique. There are outstanding Airmen all over our Air Force.
To assume an Airman is young or uneducated is absurd. Not only do they perform incredibly complex, life-or-death jobs every day, many of them are working toward degrees, if they have not already received them.
Many of them are mothers and fathers, wives and husbands, all working hard to balance school, career and a family.
Every chief, and even some colonels, started off as an Airman. Some of the best officers I know started off as Airmen. They now use their one- or two-stripe experience to make them better leaders and mentors to the Airmen under their command.
Now when people mistake my first name for ‘Airman,’ I don’t usually correct them, not only because I like to hear what they say next, but also because I’m proud to be associated with these outstanding professionals.