Professionalism

THULE AIR BASE, Greenland -- One of the most uniquely American military traits is "professionalism." The term captures not just the desire of U.S. military senior military leaders, but also a trait demanded by the American public of its military. As a commander, I speak often of the term professionalism - hoping to help ingrain that certain ideal I want the Airmen in my group to strive for and achieve. As it came time to clearly articulate exactly what I meant by this concept after taking command, I decided to put my definition of professionalism up against the dictionary definition. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines professionalism as: The skill, good judgment and polite behavior that is expected from a person who is trained to do a job well.

As I aligned this definition against my expectations as a commander it further solidified my long-held belief that, as an Airman, we each have an obligation to achieve the highest state of professionalism achievable. Here is how I see the definition of professionalism in Airmen's terms.

The first part of the definition is about the skill to do a job well. As a young Airman initially learning the tradecraft of serving in the U.S. military, this means achieving technical competency - in other words, doing your job well and to the best of your abilities. As you grow and develop in your skills, the focus shifts toward working well with others and helping those who are following, increasing their capacity to become more skillful. Then, as you establish the credibility of a highly skilled technician and leader, you are expected to simply do the right thing...as technician, leader and Airman.

The next section of the Merriam-Webster definition is about good judgment. To me, this is about the actions you take and the decisions you make on a daily basis. My experience has convinced me one of the best tests for deciding whether an action or decision is based on good judgment is to ask this simple question: Would my parents/spouse/children/leaders/followers think this is a good action or decision? As leaders we count on people to make wise choices and smart decisions on their own. Ultimately, your actions and decisions define who you are - and establish your reputation. Whether we like to admit it, or not, a strong military - and civilian - life reputation is a single, but valuable, indicator of good judgment.

The final portion of the definition of professionalism is about polite behavior. Standards for what is deemed polite behavior in the civilian world often contorts with the will of society. Military standards, on the other hand, are simply not debatable or flexible and must be adhered to. Whether they are combat rules of engagement or dress and appearance standards, in order to be a truly professional military force, polite behavior is foundational. As a commander, I believe this translates to treating each other with the dignity and respect each military and civilian member deserves. During these times this means there can be no tolerance for discrimination, sexual assault, bullying, harassment, lack of effort or misuse/abuse of authority. As individuals we should be asking ourselves another all-important question: Am I treating others the way I want (or believe I should) be treated under similar circumstances? If not, the standard of polite behavior regarding professionalism is simply not being met.

As members of the U.S. military we have all been trained to do our jobs well. As such, we are also expected to behave in a professional manner. Not only does the American public demand this of their Airmen, but the world has also come to expect it of the U.S. military. This truly, then, becomes the definition of professionalism in the U.S. Air Force.