Priority two: professional development

by Chief Master Sgt. James Morris
86th Airlift Wing command chief

Editor’s note: This is No. 2 of 5 articles in a series highlighting the priorities of the 86th Airlift Wing.

Develop professional Airmen, warriors, leaders. The second of our wing’s priorities drives us to develop a lifestyle in which we constantly work to improve ourselves.

This is at the heart of our Air Force core value, “Excellence In All We Do,” and at the personal level it states, “Military professionals must seek out and complete professional military education, stay in physical and mental shape, and continue to refresh their general educational backgrounds.”1

On the surface, this seems relatively easy; we complete professional military education at clearly defined points in our careers to develop the skills required as we advance in rank and responsibility.

Additionally, we actively pursue educational opportunities, such as Community College of the Air Force and bachelors and masters degrees, which improve our ability to think critically as we work through problems in a dynamic world.
Finally, we complete technical certifications designed to make Airmen the consummate technical experts in their given area of expertise.

All of these items make us better leaders, adaptive thinkers and technical experts so that we perform our tasks with great efficiency and effectiveness. But what does it mean to be a professional Airman?

Vice Adm. Ann Rondeau writes, “There are aspects that surround us and there are aspects that are inside us as military professionals.” Furthermore, she states that, “The former include ethos, culture and meaning; the latter center on identity.”2
In our Air Force, we have many documents that help us understand our ethos, culture, meaning and identity. Take our core values: integrity first, service before self and excellence in all we do.

These core values tell us the price of admission to the Air Force and point to what is universal and unchanging in the profession of arms.3

Additionally, they help us get a fix on the ethical climate of an organization and serve as beacons vectoring us back to the path of professional conduct.3

The core values are “much more than minimum standards. They remind us what it takes to get the mission done. They inspire us to do our best at all times. They are the common bond among comrades in arms, and they are the glue that unifies the force and ties us to the great warriors and public servants of the past.”1

Our Airman’s Creed and Air Force symbol also play a large part in helping us to develop as military professionals. Our Air Force symbol, with its updated elements of the Hap Arnold wings and star with circle, reminds us of our Air Corps heritage and helps us to reflect on the Air Force of today and tomorrow.3

Our Airman’s Creed codifies this by reinvigorating the warrior spirit and articulating the fundamental beliefs that capture the essence of the Airman warrior and our dedication to our mission of flying, fighting and winning in air, space and cyberspace.3

The goal of our second priority, develop professional Airmen, warriors and leaders, is designed to put an increased emphasis on Airmen development. It creates a mindset within us and reminds us that we should constantly improve ourselves and cultivate an environment where we challenge each other to be better Airmen.

There are many tools at our disposal to help with this. Very simply put, we can take courses at a local university, attend the appropriate level of professional military education when it is our time or attend seminars.

Additionally, we can read Air Force instructions and Air Force or joint doctrine to make sure we are performing our functions correctly.

Furthermore, we can read a book listed on the chief of staff of the Air Force’s reading list to not only help us understand a bit of history, but also help us gain a better understanding of the events taking place today and gain a glimpse of where we may be heading in the future.

Finally, we can participate in core group sessions to develop our understanding
of all of these topics as a team. Knowing exactly when we have achieved that optimum level of professionalism will be hard to ascertain.

However, I think there will be some obvious signs as you travel around our base.
For instance, Airmen will take increased pride in their organizations, and the overall appearance of our facilities will improve as Airmen keep their areas clean, keep the landscaping well manicured, and keep weeds from popping up on sidewalks and curbs.

Airmen will take note of what is hanging on the walls within their organizations and update them in order to reflect their pride and show all visitors how good they are.
Finally, complaints will start to disappear. Airmen will become more proficient in their jobs and take more pride in the work they perform that they will go the proverbial “extra mile” in order to get the job done right the first time, further enhancing their reputations as consummate professionals.

Our commitment to developing professional Airmen is essential to ensuring we maintain the best led and best trained force in the world.4

Our future success depends upon our future Airmen who will fight and win wars long after we are gone.

Their success depends on how we develop them now while working toward our vision of capable, credible, responsive Airmen — operationally ready and honored to serve!

1. The Little Blue Book. 1997, Jan. 1. Air Force Core Values.
2. Rondeau, Vice Adm.Ann. 2011. Identity in the Profession of Arms. Joint Force Quarterly. National Defense University.
3. Air Force Doctrine Document 1-1. 2011,
Nov. 8. Leadership and Force Development.
4. Dempsey, General Martin E. 2011. America’s Military — A Profession of Arms White Paper.