Letter to Airmen: service before self

Michael W. Wynne
Secretary of the Air Force

One of my greatest privileges as your Secretary is witnessing the selfless dedication on display by Airmen around the world. You consistently demonstrate your commitment to the Core Value of Service Before Self.

Wherever I look, Airmen are executing our mission – flying and fighting in Air, Space, and Cyberspace. More than 30,000 Airmen are deployed around the world in support of 11 major operations and more than 62,000 Airmen are serving overseas. Whether our Airmen are fighting the Global War on Terrorism, providing deterrence on the Korean peninsula, or bringing aid to communities devastated by natural disasters, they continue to perform wonders.

Across all ranks and specialties, Airmen serve a higher cause than their own self-interest. Air Force Reserve C-130 crews serve the greater good of our citizens, fighting wildfires in Oregon, Idaho, and California. Airmen serve on KC-135s and E-3s over the skies of South America, supporting counter-drug operations. Airmen serve deep in the mountains of Afghanistan, calling in A-10s and B-1s for airstrikes in support of coalition troops.

Airmen serve as America’s silent sentries, maintaining the readiness of our Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles deep in underground control centers across the heartland. Air National Guardsmen serve in the skies over our homes, providing air defense patrols and alert forces ready at a moment’s notice. In Balad, Iraq, the service of Air Force medics and evacuation teams saves the lives of Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and their fellow Airmen daily.
Whether on the tip of the spear or supporting the mission with steadfast professionalism, all Airmen are equally committed to Service Before Self – defending our nation at the cost of great personal sacrifice.

The value of Service Before Self is obvious in acts of heroism. Although images of heroic acts come to mind when we talk of Service Before Self, I am fully confident that this value lies deep within us all.

Medal of Honor recipient, Airman 1st Class John Levitow, explains it best in his quote etched forever in the Inscription Wall at our Air Force Memorial: “I have been recognized as a hero for my ten minutes of action over Vietnam, but I am no more a hero than anyone else who has served their country.”
Service Before Self is more than a slogan; it is a moral imperative I see internalized daily in all of America’s Airmen. It makes me ever proud to serve alongside you.