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Excellence in All We Do: Are we pushing it aside?

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Joseph E. Thornell
  • AFNORTH Command Chief
The term 'excellence' is quickly, easily and rightfully associated with military service in America. It has always invoked images of Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Guardians doing our nation's bidding in distant lands, in local disasters and tragedies, and in direct support of the population, both at home and abroad.

Hearing the word 'excellence' brings forward words like procedural compliance, attention to detail, integrity, core values, caring more than others think is normal, and being ready for inspection at all times.

Service in the U.S. military is so highly valued that in the previous 30 years, it has rated as the number 1 or 2 institution in which the American people place the most confidence.

In my 16 months as the Air Forces Northern Command Chief I have noted a reduction in excellence in some areas of our force. As I talk about it at enlisted calls, conference addresses, and face-to-face communications with Airmen at our units, we mutually agree that the defense of our nation demands excellence at all times. Yet I see failure to use technical data, failure to follow policy, and ethical failures happening across the Air Force.

I believe that the reduction in excellence I have observed is driven by multiple factors. I clearly recognize that we are very busy as an air force. We have lots to accomplish and not as much resource as we have been accustomed to when accomplishing that mission. This can lead to a 'devil- may-care' attitude on occasion.

In the recent past, I was talking to an Airman who had returned from deployment and he was justifying his lack of technical data use at home station since at his deployed location the prevailing directive was the need to "make it happen" while downrange. If the use of technical data is a written order from the Secretary of the Air Force, how can we ever justify "make it happen" and not use technical data to accomplish our jobs, regardless of whether we are in garrison or deployed?

Recently, I spoke to our Component Numbered Air Force members at Unit Safety Day (with my wife present, mind you) and I came clean to how I had not exhibited excellence in decision making in the previous week when I chose to drive more than 400 miles back to home station after working 16 hours.

How does poor decision making like this happen? In this case, I allowed mission demands, competing priorities, and a lack of personal prioritization to overrule common sense and I set myself and my family up for serious failure.

We are taught from Day 1 in the Air Force to always consider Operational Risk Management; on this particular day, I pushed 33 years of knowledge and experience aside for all the wrong reasons and excellence was ignored.

Another factor that could be impacting our culture of excellence is a lack of understanding of the Air Force Core Values. Yes, we can all recite them when asked, but do we really understand what excellence is and what the Air Force expects from us in this regard? If we did, we would not allow the pressure of mission, societal demands, demands of leadership, and multiple competing priorities to get in the way; we would exhibit excellence in all we do 24/7/365.

I encourage each of us who serves this great Air Force to dust off our "Little Blue Book" and refresh in our minds what 'Excellence in All We Do' really means. Our service and nation demand it from us and they are confident we will deliver.