Reasonable expectation of excellence

  • Published
  • By Maj. Jim Alves
  • 4th Security Forces Squadron commander
Writing a commentary relevant to all Airmen is a tough thing to do. I considered writing about the latest round of force-shaping that many Airmen, including myself, are facing. I thought of writing about my team of defenders coming home this week from Southwest Asia, while another group is heading out the door. I thought of writing about our fighter package that just came back after six months of beating-up-on terrorists or our current air strikes over Libya. I thought about writing on the upcoming Wings Over Wayne Open House that Team Seymour is hosting in less than a month, or the litany of issues that my Airmen like to "cuss and discuss," such as: uniforms, enlisted performance reports or fitness tests.

As I was racking my brain on which one to specifically write about, it came to me that instead of writing about each topic individually, I could tie them all together. I kept coming back to the theme I use with my Airmen when discussing what the Air Force expects of them and the one over-arching string that ties them all together: Excellence.

To steal a phrase from legal, whether you're an airman basic or a general, there is a Reasonable Expectation of Excellence required by the U.S. Air Force. We are not just police officers, pilots or engineers. We are the less than one percent of all Americans who serve in the U.S. military, and the American people expect us to be excellent. To be excellent, we not only have to soar in our day-to-day jobs, but we need to excel in all facets of our lives. We serve our country, community and families, and excellence is expected.

During my 11-year career, I have been confronted with Airmen not meeting standards or not selected for something they feel they are entitled to. Their excuses can be wrapped up in one phrase: "Sir, I just didn't have time." Didn't have time to get a hair cut, not enough time to complete the Community College of the Air Force Degree, didn't have time to join the Top-Three, didn't have time to work on my master's degree... More often than not, this excuse is followed by the phrase, "...but I am excellent at my job." As Airmen, our profession should always encompass every aspect of the Air Force mission, not just our specific job. We have a myriad of requirements our leadership, and the Air Force, levies on us. It is our responsibility to balance these requirements and our personal lives and accomplish them in an excellent matter.

When the expectation is excellence, it is easy to take yourself out of the game if you fail to live up to that expectation. So how does one separate themselves from the pack to be that "chief" or to be "that" colonel? The book answer is to complete your professional military education, required degrees and lead your peer organization. I could say that all helps, but to be honest, that's all a part of our requirement to the Air Force. That's part of the reasonable expectation of excellence. Don't try to separate yourself, instead, be excellent in all that you do, and strive to instill this desire in your Airmen.

How does one become excellent? Well, if you're a sports fan, you may be familiar with Vince Lombardi's belief that: "... one should strive for perfection, because while perfection is not attainable, if we chase perfection; we can catch excellence." If you're not a sports fan, and are looking for a different metric on how to be excellent, I would outline it as the desire to not accept the standard as the best that you will do. Always strive to do more than the bare minimum.

To come full circle, let me ask a question. Do we want the Airmen assigned to the Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron unit building an airfield in some unpronounceable location in Afghanistan, or to a security forces squad patrolling outside the wire of Joint Base Balad, Iraq, or to the maintenance squadron fixing a 20-year-old aircraft to be just good? No. We want them to be, and expect them to be excellent, because all of those jobs, and more, require excellent Airmen to be successful.