Set the example for the new generation

  • Published
  • By Maj Jeff Baldwin
  • 4th Equipment Maintenance Squadron commander
For a long time now, I've heard personnel within the Air Force talk about the new generation of Airmen coming in with less-than-glowing comments. They talk about their lack of motivation, respect for authority and non-adherence to standards, just to name a few. Basically, the general feeling seems to be that this new generation of Airmen is somehow less able or willing than the last. I have to admit, there was a time when I believed it.

Then I got an assignment to Sheppard AFB and what I saw changed my opinion completely. Every week, I would see freshly minted-Airmen straight from basic training getting off the bus from Lackland. I saw the same level of motivation, willingness to do anything and the desire to be part of something bigger than themselves that I felt when I arrived at Chanute AFB some 15 years earlier. That isn't to say I haven't seen problems with our newest Airmen out in the field with things such as customs and courtesies, attention to detail and other areas that give this generation of Airmen a bad rap. The problem as I see it isn't these Airmen, it's us supervisors.

We've altered our expectations based on some preconceived notion that our newest crew can't live up to the same level imposed on us back in the day. In what psychologists would call a self-fulfilling prophecy, they are continuing to exceed the low standards we've set for them. Now it's incumbent on supervisors at all levels to turn this around.

Really, it's nothing more than us doing our job.

It starts with all of us setting a good example of appropriate conduct. If we can't walk the walk, we can't talk the talk. That means wearing our uniform correctly, passing our physical training tests and not bad mouthing our supervisors in front of our subordinates, as just a few examples. If we want our Airmen to exceed the standard, we need to set the example of what that is.

Supervisors need to give feedback; both in the form of periodic written formal feedback and constant informal feedback. Formal feedback is imperative to setting the basis of expectation for our subordinates and informal feedback reinforces those expectations while also providing mid-course corrections. Unfortunately, I see all too often that supervisors don't realize the importance of feedback, are unable to give their subordinates honest, constructive and complete feedback or frankly don't do their job to provide it.

Supervisors need to stop confusing being approachable with being their subordinate's friend. While it is important that subordinates feel comfortable discussing any issue with their supervisor, it cannot be to a level of familiarity that erodes the foundation of this great institution. That means subordinates shouldn't be on a first name basis with their supervisor. Supervisor and subordinate shouldn't be Facebook "friends" or inappropriately spending off-duty time with each other. Too many supervisors are more concerned with being liked and not being respected and that needs to change.

Lastly, it takes all of us. We all live with the same rules for dress and appearance, customs and courtesies and appropriate conduct in public. Regrettably, we are not consistently enforcing those standards when we get outside our work centers. It is all of our responsibility to do what is right and correct a deficiency when we see it and not just leave it to the offender's supervisor. As the old saying goes, it takes a village to raise a child. Well this base is our village and it is on all of us to ensure excellence in our Airmen.

This new generation of Airmen is the most educated, most informed group we have ever seen. At the same time, they are no different than the generations of Airmen who came before them. They want to be contributors to the most respected air power in the world. They strive for excellence as we have defined it and will clear any bar you put in front of them. Don't sell them short. Set the bar high and I have no doubt that they will show you what their true capabilities are.