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Pointing out excellence in our core values

BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Fourteen years ago last month, in May 1995, then-Secretary of the Air Force Sheila Widnall, and then-Chief of Staff of the Air Force, Gen. Ronald Fogleman, established the Air Force Core Values: Integrity First, Service Before Self, and Excellence in All We Do.

The year before, the Air Force experienced several tragic events that, after extensive examination, had the effect of tarnishing the image and reputation of the service. Two of the more well known events were a Blackhawk helicopter incident in Iraq and a B-52 crash at Fairchild AFB.

The April friendly-fire on an Army Blackhawk helicopter by two Air Force F-15s during Operation Provide Comfort in Iraq and the June crash of a B-52 preparing for an air show led to perceptions of complacency as well as a lack of honesty and transparency among Air Force leadership at the base level on up to the Chief of Staff.

Upon assuming the office of the Chief of Staff in October 1994, one of General Fogleman's early actions was to clearly establish a set of Air Force core values and put in motion a campaign to instill those core values in every Air Force member.

I am sure some individuals reading this article remember the Little Blue Book, first published in January 1997, used to widely and succinctly distribute the core values message. As a new captain at Grand Forks AFB, I remember leading a discussion within my flight of the new core values. I do not recall much of the specific discussion, only that I was doing a barely adequate job of trying to convey the Chief's vision. While core values endure today unchanged, the Air Force is not alone in attempting to instill a deeper awareness of personal responsibility.

There is probably an inherent values system to any organized group of people. Individuals do not tend to work with the same people day after day without sharing some common beliefs. However, without some kind of explicit declaration of values, an organization is opening itself up to dubious activities, especially at the periphery of its operations.

Within the military, all the services have established a set of values to guide its members' activity and decision-making. Army Values are loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage. The Navy has a short list of core values: honor, courage and commitment. Similarly concise, the Coast Guard lists its core values as honor, respect and devotion to duty.

In comparing the values of the services, one can see quite a bit of overlap. However, my review shows the Air Force alone has a core commitment to excellence. All the services share a dedication to integrity, holding honor and integrity as equivalents. Also, the other services possess a comparable value of service before self. The Army has selfless service, the Navy has commitment and the Coast Guard has devotion to duty. However, none of the other services has -- as a core value -- the Air Force's core value of excellence in all we do. This is not to say that the other services are not committed to excellence. Also, just because the Air Force does not have a core value of 'courage' like the Army and Navy does not mean that members of the Air Force are not brave.

What "Excellence in All We Do" means to me is that we as Air Force members should put special emphasis on excellence in our daily activities. For example, the Air Force's physical fitness test has a passing category that is "good," but we should aspire to the category of "excellent." Likewise, most operational career fields have some kind of monthly recurring training with a knowledge test. While there is a minimum passing score, every operator should seek to score within the category for what that career field considers excellent. Drawing on my past, the missile career field is famous -- or infamous -- for holding excellent as no less than perfection.

As a final example, whether you are behind a counter, on the other end of the telephone or in the field, we should all aim for excellent customer service, because these days we all provide customer service of one type or another. As my leadership says, "Excellence is the standard. Outstanding is the goal!"

In conclusion, though today we have ingrained in our professional belief system a trio of core values, it was not always so. Secretary Widnall and General Fogleman took the Air Force core values from an assumption to a fact, likely prompted by several terrible incidences but also by the resulting actions of leadership as discovered in the aftermath. In addition, our sister services also hold a set of values as core. The Air Force, though, is unique among the services in considering excellence as an element of our foundation.

The Air Force's Little Blue Book can be found at http://www.usafa.af.mil/core-value/cv-mastr.html