Lessons learned from judge advocate

BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- It has been more than a year since I became the Staff Judge Advocate for the 460th Space Wing. While learning the missions of the 460th Space Wing, our mission partners and tenant units, daily I gain more respect for the dedication and caliber of the Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors and Marines assigned to Buckley Air Force Base.

The best jobs in the Air Force are on the front lines, at the wing level. Having returned, it has reaffirmed some basic lessons that I have learned since I first became a Judge Advocate. There are many, these are just two, but they are simple and important.

First, where there is violence or repeated misconduct, alcohol is often an underlying or contributing factor. Otherwise exceptional people make exceptionally poor and reckless decisions when impaired by alcohol. They decide to risk others' lives while operating a vehicle, an argument with their spouse culminates in an assault or they make decisions that lead to a sexual assault.

Abuse of alcohol routinely destroys careers, families, relationships and negatively impacts our ability to execute the Air Force’s mission at a time when we need every Airman we have performing at a high level. Alcohol may offer short-term relief from stress or a fun night out, but the long-term effects of the choices made while impaired can, and does, have devastating lifelong impacts.

Alcohol abuse knows no rank. If you suspect someone has a problem or is intoxicated, intervene. Intervene to protect your fellow Airman, but also to protect the potential victim(s) of an inevitable poor decision by that Airman.

Second, for all of our leaders, hold your people accountable for their actions, early and often, good and bad. The Air Force does not have the manpower to accept sub-par performers taking up our manning slots. As supervisors, we are responsible for developing and motivating our Airmen, but when these efforts fail, it is time for these individuals to leave our ranks. To tolerate poor performance or conduct that falls short of our core values is an insult to the 99% of our members who epitomize integrity, excellence and service. For your star performers, and there are many, highlight them and focus on grooming the future of our service.

Do it by your words, but remember that words are fleeting. Look in your members’ personnel information files. You should be able to tell what kind of Airman they are based on what is contained in that file.

In our world, the written word will define how our Airmen are seen and how far they can go. It is a key leadership responsibility to ensure this work is done with integrity to ensure a superior Air Force of tomorrow. Empower the exceptional to excel. For the others, help them recognize job opportunities elsewhere.

While in my career field, the 1% of Airmen take up 95% of my office’s time. I take absolute pleasure in getting to see firsthand the performance of the 99% at Buckley AFB. I am consistently amazed with the knowledge, performance and dedication of our Airmen, and the professionalism with which they execute vital Air Force missions. Let us make sure that these are the Airmen that lead us into the future.