Standard-free zone?

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Erik Utrecht
  • 28th Mission Support Squadron
Since becoming an airman leadership school instructor, I have learned to truly savor part of my day that as a member of security forces I never knew - the lunch break. That's right, my lunch break; a wonderful hour of my day where I can honestly take a breather and relax. 

There are a lot of incredibly hard working people on Ellsworth AFB that will never have the opportunity to leave their work centers behind to have a short moment to enjoy the fine cuisine that the surrounding areas have to offer, and so I do not take this privilege lightly. 

One of the fine establishments that I gravitate to is a sandwich shop. Great food and frequented by the finest men and women in this great nation- professional Airmen.
I bring this up because it's the very reason that my precious lunch hour has become something I dread- by no means due to the food or fine service of its owner and staff. 

Recently I was enjoying a wonderful meal while catching up on current events being broadcast on the news, when I noticed a senior NCO enter the eatery in uniform with his sunglasses on the top of his head. Now, is it wrong? Yes. Do fine people make mistakes? Absolutely. I noticed this gentleman had a leather coat tucked under his arm. Viola! He rides a motorcycle! And as a person who also rides I can honestly say that I have forgotten my shades on top of my head more times than I can count. 

So this is where the plot thickens. Great lunch? Check. News on TV? Check. Four stripes on my arm? Double check. Ah ha. So, I am witness to a simple infraction of Air Force instructions and although in the middle of my meal, I am charged with 'correcting' it. I love that word - "correcting." It has so many faces. When I make a mistake, I prefer to have someone point out that I am in the wrong so I can correct myself, as I consider myself a professional; and I imagined that this 'professional' would like the same respect. 

After a simple evaluation of this situation, I plotted a "corrective" firing solution taking into account rank, implied PME education, skill level, location, demeanor, wind speed, drift, and of course- gravitational pull. And I soon chose my plan of action. 

"Excuse me sir, I just wanted to let you know that your sunglasses were on top of your head." (Translation: Sir, I don't know you, you don't know me- you're in the wrong, but we're both pros here.) 

"Yeah, I know they're up there." (Translation: Yup, never mind my infractions, I'm at lunch.) And he walked past, and sat down at his table with another SNCO (who failed to see any issue with his friend's infraction), making what I'm sure were comments to the effect of "how dare that mere staff sergeant tell me I'm wrong when I am." 

I sat flabbergasted. No, "Oh geez, thanks." Or, "I'm always forgetting those there." Or even the simple silent removal of said offending items from said brow. 

Here was a member of the senior enlisted tier showcasing poor leadership at its finest. If we're responsible for setting the example and training our replacements - I'm scared as to what is being produced at a shop near you. 

I wish that this incident was a one-of-a-kind situation, but unfortunately it seems to be becoming much more commonplace up-and-down the ranks.

The notion of "Do as I say and not as I do" is alive and strong everywhere- I know because your Airmen tell me. They arrive at our school with a good portion of them contemplating or fully prepared to leave the Air Force. Are there a few who a just plain "don't like the Air Force," and can share no reason for why- but the majority say it's because of poor leadership examples. So why do we do it NCOs? We're all professionals who could be called to war at a moment's notice yet some of us can't even wear our uniform properly, and even worse - wear it wrong intentionally. 

By failing to meet our responsibilities under AFI 36-2618, The Enlisted Force Structure on even the simplest of things, we become the Airman that skips a step on a technical order, or fails to perform a crucial step in our war-fighting machine - we become the problem. How can we expect our Airmen to maintain the standards if we consistently fail to do so? 

As a non-commissioned officer in the USAF, we may or may not have the opportunity to garner a "lunch-hour" from our respective duty centers throughout our career - in fact; our lives differ considerably when it comes to the work that we do to keep this country safe. Yet, we all share one very important common ground - we are NCOs 24 hours a day, until we decide to part with our military service. 

So remember, our lives are not the same, our job is not the same, and we may never share the same "lunch break," but we equally share the magnitude of failing to properly execute our duties.