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Aim High by enforcing standards

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Antonio Hickey
  • 451st Air Expeditionary Wing command chief
I'm often asked why senior leaders pay so much attention to minor details throughout the course of their duties given that we are at war and there are "more pressing matters" to attend to. The argument from junior officers and enlisted personnel typically challenges a leader's focus on uniform standards or other seemingly insignificant rules our Airmen do not like to enforce for one reason or another. My response is usually along the lines of, "You're right, we do have more pressing matters ... now please fix this so we can get on to them."

What we sometimes forget is that our longstanding success as a military power is the result of our adherence to basic standards and discipline. It has been what has set us apart from many less-capable militaries, and most accomplished leaders would agree that a military force cannot be successfully employed if they neglect these fundamentals.

Discipline is essential to the success of any military force. After all, without discipline, leaders cannot depend on their forces to carry out orders or conduct an operation in an efficient and consistent manner. The military services build that discipline in their Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen through development of and enforcement of standards.

So what's the tie-in? How do uniform standards, community standards or general military discipline issues relate to mission accomplishment?

My experience has been that a lack of standards enforcement cannot be confined in discreet areas. If left unchecked, this type of behavior almost always creeps into more critical mission areas. I challenge you to examine any organization where fundamental standards are not enforced. I can almost guarantee you will find standards in that organization's critical areas are lacking as well ... sometimes with serious consequences.

The reality is that we have seen a few recent incidents where we have not paid attention to standards in mission-critical areas. Lack of discipline in such areas as weapon handling, maintenance practices, and flying operations have led to several close calls. These incidents nearly resulted in damage to equipment or serious injury to our Airmen. That type of performance is not acceptable.

As Air Force leaders (and every one of us is a leader at some level), it is our responsibility to turn this trend around and rebuild a culture of compliance that extends from our most basic standards and into everything we do ... especially in our operational areas.

Getting back to a culture of compliance is almost always difficult. Like any change, it's hard to turn around because we are battling what has become an organizational norm. It's never an easy fix to bring people off of a norm and establish another ... it takes time and effort by all leaders.

One thing I do know, however, is a force that truly believes in Excellence in All we Do is an unstoppable force that does not need to spend a lot of time debating and enforcing standards. It is a disciplined, standards-based force that polices itself and gets the job done every time. That's the type of organization I want to be a part of ... one that Aims High.