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How do you wear your Airmanship?

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Christina M. Styer
  • 380th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
It was late and I was trying to focus on studying my professional development guide when the "Airmanship Defined" section caused me to sit up straight, pay attention and take notice.

I can't remember the last time I heard the term "Airmanship."

The PDG defines Airmanship as "the mindset, evident in our behaviors, that causes us to proudly exhibit the highest levels of professional service to our country."

It goes on to say "our behavior is a direct result of our mindset, and demonstrates our personal commitment to membership in the profession of arms. Adherence to and enforcement of standards, impeccable wear of the uniform, readiness to perform mission objectives, and perpetuation of the Air Force culture provide a clear picture of what we expect Airman behavior to look like."

I was raised when NCOs and Senior NCOs taught us all about Airmanship and they made us understand why we should follow the standards.

As a photographer, I have always been seen by everyone, even when I didn't want to be. I learned very early I need to look sharp and adhere to dress and appearance standards at all times. I will never forget being called out as an Airman because my, then black, boots were a little dull. The master sergeant correcting me didn't know I had just come from photographing survival school instructors in the woods before arriving at his event.

While I felt this was very unfair, and was embarrassed because I took pride in my appearance, I learned a valuable lesson from that experience.

That master sergeant didn't know me and he didn't know what I had been doing that day, all he had to judge me on was my appearance in that moment.

This is an important lesson to be instilled in the Airmen we lead. I want to teach them we can't pick and choose the standards we follow. Our Air Force leadership has decided that we are not permitted to wear black nail polish, dye our hair blue, have pretty pink cell phone cases or let our hair have a "rooster tail" appearance.

Do I think the Air Force would fall apart if I decorate my phone with the really pretty, pink, white and green, sparkled case I really want?

No, I don't.

But I follow the standards, regardless of my opinions about them, for two reasons.

It's not my place to decide what regulations I should follow and my level of service and dedication to the Air Force would be questionableif I didn't follow them.

One of the Airmen in my shop recently said to me, "Tech. Sgt. Styer, do you know how obsessive you've made us all about dress and appearance?"

I found this to be one of the greatest compliments I have received as a noncommissioned officer. As an NCO, I have been groomed to lead by example and teach those I am charged to lead to do the same.

This is not just a "company line" or the generic "Air Force answer" to me. If we mess up a first impression, we can never get it back.

Some will never speak to us, never see our records showing our incredible accomplishments, and never hear why we joined or how important our service is to us.

They may only ever see how our uniforms fit us, what our hair looks like, if we are cleanly shaven, if our bag is being carried correctly or what color our phone is.

That might be the only impression they ever get of us, and according to the definition of Airmanship they would be right to assume we don't care much about our service to the Air Force if we aren't following the standards set for us.

I feel disappointed when I look around and see so many choosing not to follow standards. I feel even more disappointed when I realize that among those violators are my peers and some are in higher leadership roles.

How can I combat this and make a difference?

It is challenging to teach my Airmen and correct them when they are violating standards if those in leadership roles are not doing the right thing.

We have all been told that is our job to correct these uniform infractions when we see them. Honestly, it's impossible to correct them all and get anything accomplished. We all need to be doing it.

It can be intimidating to make these corrections. It is hard to know how someone is going to react. We must be courageous. We also need to be sure to correct with respect. We don't need to yell or talk down to people - educating them is always the best way.

Since we are all imperfect humans, we are bound to be on the receiving end of correction at least once. It is important to respond professionally, courteously and with humility. How we respond to these situations says more about us than the mistake we may have made.

Airmanship defines who we are as Airmen. It is time we all take a long hard look at AFI 36-2903 and compare ourselves to it.

Is our adherence to the standards communicating what we want it to communicate?