Avoiding the Epic Fail

Col. Mark Czelusta, 314th Airlift Wing commander

Col. Mark Czelusta, 314th Airlift Wing commander

LITTLE ROCK AIR FORCE BASE, Ark. -- "I saw the signs that he was having problems, sir, but I'm not his rater."

One of my squadron commanders heard these words from a fellow squadron member as he counseled a young Airman who found himself in trouble and is now facing severe consequences. Let me be blunt. From my standpoint, this is tantamount to saying, "I saw an Airman in trouble and chose to do nothing." Epic fail. My reasons are many--I'll highlight three of them. But it's all about being a wingman and a leader.

First, while Team Little Rock represents three wings, [Chief Master Sgt. Mark Marson, 314th Airlift Wing command chief] and I will regularly observe that "they are all our Airmen." I know that wing leaders feel the same way. And in reality, we are all each others' Airmen. It has nothing to do with what patch you wear or who is in your chain of command. When someone is heading down a dangerous path, our Air Force does not suggest that we speak up ... our Air Force expects it as part of our Core Values of Integrity, Service and Excellence. Nothing in this expectation implies that we should consider the specific rating chain or assigned major command.

Second, when something is wrong, we take action. That means we speak up, look out for each other, and hold each other to high standards. The failed statement above suggests that the individual considered himself a co-worker to the Airman in trouble. We don't have co-workers in our Air Force; we have teammates and wingmen. We lean on each other, even on some issues the American public would consider to be private matters. This is core to the profession of arms, and what always separates us from private industry.

Third, and most disappointing, this statement was made by an NCO--someone with many years of service, and who's been trained to lead. Whether you are an officer or an NCO, you are specifically charged to be on the lookout for fellow Airmen in trouble--especially if you are a leader on the line. No one else has the familiarity with your Airman or that particular situation in your duty section. It's up to you.

From my standpoint, it is more-than-OK to ask pointed, maybe even uncomfortable, questions, so long as they are in a professional, caring and respectful way. Consider the following: Where do you like to go for a good time? How many drinks do you have when you do drink? Do you drink during the week or just on weekends? Do you understand why it may not be appropriate for an NCO to party with an Airman? What are you planning on doing this weekend ... where is that? Do you have my phone number? You've had problems in the past; do you understand the consequences of being a repeat offender? Who do you hang out with ... do they have a discipline history? What is your financial status? Are you getting along with your spouse or significant other? The list of such tough questions is long, and this is not at all inclusive.

The bottom line is simple. We have done--and can do--better. Our performance during deployments, inspections, and the recent tornado is just a small sample of examples that prove we know what to do. We owe it to ourselves, to each other and our Air Force.