Airman first

Col. Adam Dickerson, 314th Maintenance Group commander

Col. Adam Dickerson, 314th Maintenance Group commander

LITTLE ROCK AIR FORCE BASE, Ark. -- A few days ago, we celebrated the 62nd birthday of our Air Force. A conversation I heard on the morning of Sept. 18 brought to mind a story a first sergeant told me she had heard from a chief years before. 

The chief related the events of a trip he took around the Central Command area of responsibility with the general for whom he worked during Operation Desert Shield. While standing in a dining facility line during a visit to a Marine unit, the general nudged the chief and pointed to a sign hanging over the serving line. The sign read, "No more than two milks per Marine." The chief looked at his tray, then told the general, "Yes sir. I only have one milk." The general said, "No chief, read the sign." Confused, the chief repeated his original response. 

Feigning exasperation, the general said, "The sign says, 'No more than two milks per MARINE.' If this sign were in an Air Force facility, it'd say, 'No more than two milks per PERSON or INDIVIDUAL.' Everyone here thinks of themselves as a Marine first. We could use more of that in the Air Force. We think of ourselves as pilots, crew chiefs, cops or whatever before we think of ourselves as members of the Air Force." 

Now, that story from the Desert Shield days is 19 years old now and we've made great strides in instilling an "Airman" identity in our culture. But I think there's still some truth to the unknown general's words. The Air Force has trained us in skills needed to execute our mission and we still tend to identify with those specialties or functional areas. 

When a civilian asks what you do, how often do you say, "I'm an Airman?" In my observation, most of us either respond with a generic, "I'm in the Air Force" or we offer the name of our specialty; "I'm an aircraft maintenance officer." 

The fact is, we are all Airmen first. We have a specialty because the Air Force needs those skills, but our job is to serve in whatever capacity needed to achieve mission success. Before we are heavy equipment operators or med techs, loadmasters or paralegals, we are Airmen. Embrace that identity. 

As Airmen, we are part of an unmatched team. No other military organization in the history of the world can dominate the battle space at any point on the globe like the Air Force. True, our technology gives us an undeniable edge over nearly all potential adversaries, but the real reason our Air Force is the envy of the world is you, the American Airman. 

We are all fully justified in being proud of our career fields and the culture built around them, but it takes all of us to move the mission. You're part of an amazing team and when asked what you do, you should take great pride in saying, I am an American Airman!