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Don't be an AF 8-track: Learn something new every day

SOUTHWEST ASIA -- We've all got to keep learning and growing every day. Where would the Air Force be if Airmen wouldn't or couldn't learn new things? Let's take a look back to see how life in the Air Force has changed (relatively) recently. 

My example is now a 30-year chief master sergeant... let's call him Moses... when Airman Moses first enlisted in the Air Force in 1977, the Air Force was wearing green fatigues... and anyone who worked in an office environment wore their blues to work every day. If he was tasked to provide an answer to his boss, he probably typed it up on a typewriter. Most of his fellow Airmen were exactly that -- men. Only 10 years before that, the Air Force had lifted grade and strength restrictions for women, and there still weren't that many around. In his free time, Airman Moses listened to music on his 8-track tape player. That was back in the Cold War... The Soviet Union was the big bad bear, and they were watching us just as closely as we were watching them... 

Fast forward another 10 years... in 1987, Staff Sgt. Moses is still ever ready, on guard against the Soviet hordes... the Air Force is still wearing green fatigue uniforms, but they have just introduced the brand new BDU -- Sergeant Moses is one of the first people down to the uniform store to purchase his. His duty section has one computer... actually, it's made to do only one function, word processing, and the flight clerk uses it for the entire section's Airman Performance Reports (forerunner of the Enlisted Performance Report)... as part of a 24-hour watch, he keeps a log of his activities. Since they need 3 copies of the log for the hard copy read files, he uses carbon paper on the typewriter. Sergeant Moses has a brand new CD player and is collecting a couple new CDs every pay day... anyone remember these good old days? 

In 1997, Senior Master Sgt. Moses is living a whole different life... The Berlin Wall has come down and the Russians are our allies... the Air Force has had a couple of different service dress uniforms by now, and everyone has a computer on their desk. Email is starting to become an official form of correspondence. Senior Master Sgt. Moses supervises an Airman who is on the weight management program, and the Expeditionary Air Force is still just a bunch of power point briefings. On his off-duty time, Senior Master Sgt. Moses relaxes by watching DVDs. 

Fast forward to 2007. Chief Master Sgt. Moses now wears the new Airman Combat Uniform (ACU) when he reports to Southwest Asia for his Air Expeditionary Force rotation. His Army boss at his joint job didn't really want to let him go, but agreed to release him to perform the Global War on Terrorism tasking. He doesn't remember how we ever did without email and other Microsoft Office functions like PowerPoint, and now that he's a group superintendent, he's got a Blackberry strapped to his belt... enough of the donuts already, he is now Fit to Fight, working out to the customized music selection on his iPod! 

Imagine if Airman Moses thought he knew it all and had stopped challenging himself to grow and learn new things... As leaders of the world's greatest Air Force, we must continue to grow. We must continue to learn new things. We must be learning leaders and set the example for our units. As learning leaders, we help ensure our organizations don't get stale and stagnate... that we continue to grow. We need to make it our challenge to learn something new every day. 

And I know there are Airmen out there now saying, "Oh, great, now she's telling us we've got to do more work." Maybe or maybe not... the things we need to keep learning will sometimes be about our job. They may also be about a related job... for instance a pilot could certainly learn some useful things about a crew chief's job and vice versa. Those things we need to keep learning could also be about something completely unrelated. 

An example of this is the Mission Design Series of the Week, sponsored by the 379th Expeditionary Operations Group. Learning about the C-130 doesn't really have anything to do with my job directly, but it certainly increases my Airmanship knowledge. 

Additionally, learning things outside the Air Force help us become well-rounded people, and things which make us better people make us better Airmen. 

As a new squadron commander, I asked all the unit members to write down their goals for this deployment -- both for themselves and how they intended to make the unit and base a better place... many of them had goals of losing weight or getting in shape, but I was surprised how many folks listed some kind of educational goal -- whether formal or informal - on their card. One reason the U.S. Air Force remains the world's best Air Force is our desire and willingness to learn new things. The moral of the story: Don't be the 8-track tape of the Air Force.