Service Before Self
By Colonel Steven J. Butow, 129th Rescue Wing Commander
/ Published February 28, 2012
Moffett Federal Airfield, Calif. -- There is no better affirmation of our Air Force core value 'Service Before Self' than the 129th Rescue Wing's motto, "These things we do, that others may live." During the last UTA, the wing performed a long range over water rescue mission 200 miles off the Pacific Coast, resulting in our 948th save. Such a tremendous feat wouldn't be possible without the skilled and dedicated contributions of our 129th Airmen who were ready to respond with relevant capabilities when called upon.
The U.S. military is consistently identified by the public as one of America's most trusted institutions. Why? Because of sacrifices each of us are willing to make when we wear the uniform and step into harm's way in defense of the nation. Selfless service is synonymous with the personal sacrifices that our Airmen make to accomplish the mission. It is a valued trait proudly reflected in our heritage as Minutemen and today as members of the Total Force.
Relevance defines our purpose whether as a skilled mechanic, logistician or medic. Without the skills gained in one's respective Air Force specialty, there's no opportunity to contribute to the mission. Relevance also infers a culture of compliance, which assures interoperability with other Airmen.
Readiness defines us as Airmen and even more as Guardsmen because we accept the responsibility to be prepared to assist the state and nation at a moment's notice. Readiness requires individual responsibility and commitment. The physical fitness test illustrates this point. In 2011 the Air Force administratively discharged 1,100 Airmen for failing to meet fitness standards. These Airmen failed to support the mission at great cost to the service and fellow Airmen.
Relevance and readiness together define service. Seniority does not.
In years past, standards were sometimes loosely interpreted. Many Airmen were able to serve long and prosperous careers despite readiness deficiencies, effectively placing their interests above the mission. Putting self before service creates a hollow force that is rich in benefits but shallow in capability. The nation relies on our ability to provide life saving capability at a moment's notice, regardless of the amount of time we have served. We must be ready to answer that call.
The following is an excerpt from "The Little Blue Book" (USAF Core Values, 1997), which helps define service before self:
"Service before self tells us that professional duties take precedence over personal desires. At the very least it includes the following behaviors:
- Rule Following. Professionals are expected to exercise judgment in the performance of their duties.
- Faith in the System. To lose faith in the system is to adopt a view that you know better than those above you in the chain of command what should or should not be done."
To lose faith in the system is to place self before service.
By now, most of you are aware that the California Air National Guard will employ selective retention this year. This should be of little concern to those who are ready and relevant. Those who aren't need to take the initiative to get within standards. There is great opportunity within the wing and the California Air National Guard for increased responsibilities for those who are prepared. Members beyond 20 years of service need to professionally advance to the next level rather than homestead in the same position. Serving one's own interests has a ripple effect that reaches the most junior Airmen.
Our Airmen are part of the most powerful all-volunteer force in military history. Without question, your efforts this past decade will define yours as the greatest generation of this century. It's imperative that we preserve this culture that fosters future generations of Airmen to lead. In doing so, we must also be mindful of the temptations that compromise 'Service Before Self.'