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“Service Before Self” not “Service Without Self”

LITTLE ROCK AIR FORCE BASE, Ark. -- The term "Service Before Self" is a phrase every Airman burns in their memories from day one of basic training. Our Air Force Core Values are at the very heart of keeping Airmen all over the world focused on completing the mission. No matter the personal sacrifice, our Airmen incessantly push themselves to ensure the needs of the Air Force are not only met, but exceeded. 

"Service Before Self," this second core value, is probably the most demanding of the core values. By design, the human race is always in self-preservation mode. Upon entering the Air Force, we are asked to place the needs and goals of the service before our own personal goals. This can be challenging, but I have found most Airmen have embodied this core value and are more than willing to put the needs of their squadron and the Air Force before their own. Placing service before self has become a source of pride for those Airmen who have embodied its true meaning. However, it does not come without some dangers. 

I was once told the core values say "Service Before Self," not "Service Without Self." It's imperative we realize the Air Force is not asking us to abandon our own needs and wants. It does demand we prioritize those of the Air Force first. If we continually neglect our personal needs, individual performance will diminish. This breakdown in performance leads to mission degradation and ultimately failure. 

Air Force Instruction 36-2618 "The Enlisted Force Structure" charges junior enlisted Airmen and Noncommissioned Officers to be physically and mentally ready to accomplish the mission. Being physically ready to accomplish the mission starts with physical fitness. It's imperative each of us incorporate fitness into our daily activities. "Fit to Fight" and "WARFIT" are not just catch phrases to be used in a joking manner. The Air Force is a Profession of Arms and we must be ready to deploy and perform our combat mission at a moment's notice. This phrase does not just mean passing our annual fitness test ... it is a total fitness check to include our mental, physical, spiritual, financial and family readiness as well. 

We all know the importance of being physically fit. Air Force fitness programs are in place to assist any Airman in their quest for physical health. From the base fitness center to the health and wellness center, there are numerous support agencies available to ensure the success of the Fit to Fight mantra. These support functions cannot succeed in their support to you or your Airmen if you don't give them a chance. Personal change and a desire to become physically fit are mandatory for each and every one of us if we are to succeed. 

Mental fitness is also one of our responsibilities. The Enlisted Force Structure, para 4.1.4.3 states we must be mentally ready to accomplish the mission. Issues that can affect and detract from mental readiness are quality of life, financial problems, sexual harassment, discrimination, stress, marital problems and substance abuse. As with physical fitness, there are numerous support agencies to ensure our mental fitness as well. The Airman & Family Readiness Center is equipped to handle a multitude of challenges including -- but not limited to -- assisting with financial planning and assistance, stress and marital problems. They have counselors and experts available to see your family through a deployment and the stresses inherent to family separation. Mental Health and Family Advocacy are available to assist with stress, substance abuse and marital problems. These agencies should be sought out at the beginning of your problem, not after it has become a detriment to your physical and mental health. 

It's a balancing act to ensure our own needs and those of the Air Force are met. However, it's imperative that you find the time to take care of yourself. We have all heard the Air Force's number one asset is people and it has never been a more true statement than today. The challenge for all Airmen whether junior enlisted, NCO, SNCO, or Commissioned Officer is to take care of yourself, your peers, and subordinates as well as the mission. It's not an easy task, but you have all signed up for the challenge.