Airmen are people too

  • Published
  • By Chaplain (Capt.) Levi Welton
  • 436th Airlift Wing

The best superhero movies are the ones where we see how they're people too, just like us. Well, Airmen - the brave women and men who protect our nation - are our nation's superheroes. And they’re people, too.

But how can we make people feel like people in a mission-oriented environment? This is the type of question our leadership thinks about and sometimes turns to the Chaplain Corps as “subject matter experts.” But I don’t always have all the answers. Sometimes, I just have observations. So here are three observations for how we can collectively contribute to being the answer to this question.

1. SEE BEYOND THE UNIFORM:  No matter what branch of service we belong to, our uniforms are designed with some form of camouflage. But don’t let the uniform obscure the reality that your fellow Airman is not just a cog in the mission-machine, but a treasured individual. As the Chassidic scholar Rabbi Pinchas of Koretz taught, “Every person possesses one valuable trait that cannot be found in anyone else.” Look, we didn’t join the Air Force to make friends but to serve the mission. But we succeed best at the mission when we create friendships and authentic alliances. As my great uncle Lt. Barney Welton, a World War II C-47 pilot who flew 130 missions as part of the 79th Troop Carrier Squadron, put it, “I’ll never forget the wealth of friendship I’ve enjoyed in the happy family of the 79th. It’s a big outfit – but I can’t think of it as a squadron. We were made up of individuals. That’s the way the boys lived. That’s the way they flew. That’s the way they died.”

2. LEAD BY EXAMPLE: “There’s no I in teamwork,” my Military Training Instructor yelled at me during boot camp. He was right. We don't fly solo but as part of a team. And good leaders lead their teams by example, demanding the best from themselves and those around them. So to make people in your team feel like people, do something that reminds them of their individuality. If your teammate shares something personal with you - that they have kids, pets or love football for example, then jot that down in your phone, notebook or memory. Then at some later point, do something that shows them you remembered what they care about. In other words, show them it’s important to you. As Stephen Covey, author of “Seven Habits for Highly Effective Families” and one of my favorite Americans, once put it, “How you treat the one reveals how you regard the many because everyone is ultimately a one.”

3. TAP INTO MISSION SUPPORT: The mission we support isn’t easy. Every year, it seems to get harder and harder to execute air dominance in support of U.S. and Allied operations worldwide. Therefore, our leadership must push for the best in ourselves and our teams. This noble demand for excellence extends to all we do, including the work cultures we create. Therefore, tap into the multiple resources that exist for the sole purpose of mission support. Military OneSource, mental health, the Mission Support Center and of course I’m going to say, the chaplain’s office. By utilizing all the support that’s out there, we strengthen spiritual and tactical resilience.

You probably have your own opinions on all this and they’re probably different from mine. But isn’t that the point? To contribute what we know to the larger conversation. So, no matter whether you’re a general or a civilian contractor, I encourage you to make your voice be heard. As one of the spiritual leaders from my personal faith tradition, the second-century Rabbi Elazar son of Shammua once said, “The dignity of your student should be as precious to you as your own; the dignity of your colleague, as your awe of your master and your awe of your master as your awe of Heaven.”

In this way, our Air Force and our people can continue dominating the heavens and being super. Like Superman who said, "Up, up and away." Or, like we say, "Fly, fight and win."