Duality of being an Airman

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Charles Orf
  • 20th Air Force

For a while now, I have shared my philosophy on the Duality of Being an Airman and the struggle, or confusion, with one's Air Force Specialty Code. Recently, it came up again, and I came across something I wrote some time ago to explain it. As a Chief, it is still very central to my way of thinking, and I would like to share this philosophy with a broader audience.

Duality of Airmanship is really about putting an emphasis on the idea that Profession of Arms (Airmanship) is equal in importance to an AFSC. In other words, Profession of Arms = AFSC. The development of each must be at least parallel, versus the AFSC being the primary emphasis, as it often is outside of set Professional Military Education requirements.

We put so much emphasis on our AFSC, our skill set, that it tends to be viewed as our profession. The equation becomes AFSC > Profession of Arms. In actuality, our AFSC is a trade that we allow to replace our profession. Our true profession is being an Airman and part of the Profession of Arms. As a result of this misplaced identity, instead of being a professional Airman that is trained in a trade (for me, 3P), I only view the Air Force through the lens of being a Defender. Ask any Airman in the First Term Airman Course what they do for a living, what is their profession, and nine out of ten will state their duty title.

The problem is, Security Forces (any AFSC--trade) is not where our values and what we value as an Air Force reside. That resides in our Airmanship. We can apply our Airmanship (our core values, institutional competencies, etc.) to our AFSC, but we cannot apply our AFSC to our Airmanship. I know several Defenders that did the trade well, but failed at the profession, and you know what, they are no longer serving in our Air Force. Excelling at your AFSC cannot compensate for a lack of values, internalizing our institutional competencies, and adapting/meshing these with your own morals/beliefs, etc.

Conversely, if you struggle with mastering your skill set, but understand and are a professional Airman, there are several trades (AFSCs) that can be explored to better fit your skills, as there is only one profession, Airmanship (the Profession of Arms). If you cannot do that, there is not a different profession to fall back on. Airmanship is a lifestyle, something carried internally (that’s why Air Force civilians are Airmen!). A trade is a job, something that is strictly external.

Airmanship is universal. I am a 9-level in Security Forces, but I am a chief master sergeant in the Air Force. Being a chief applies to the profession. Air Force Handbook 36-2618 outlines specifics for each rank and enlisted tier. Interestingly, there is zero mention of specific AFSCs in AFH 36-2618, why? Because the Air Force expects Airmen of different enlisted tiers and ranks to have different levels of responsibility/requirements within the profession, regardless of trade. Unfortunately, nobody reads it. When it comes to our rank, that one thing that is tied to our profession, our Airmanship, we tend to think we will figure it out, learn from experience only versus reading a document that the Air Force provides outlining it all to us. We lack deliberateness.

When it comes to our skill level, we use on the job training, exercises, inspections, daily briefings, roll call training, you name it, to make us better at our trade. We are proactive and very deliberate in our trade development. Whereas, we are reluctant and reactive in our Airmanship development. “Oh, getting promoted, time to send you to Airman Leadership School (Noncommissioned Officer Academy, Senior Noncommissioned Officer Academy, etc.);” we are not deliberate in developing our Professional skills, what it means to be an Airman, part of the Profession of Arms.

Simple equation that can be applied to anything, but think about it in the context of Airmanship and AFSC...passion + drive to be the best = deliberate development. What you are passionate about creates a desire. That desire drives you to want to be the best at it, not better than others as much as better than you were yesterday. That creates a personal drive to seek out opportunities to deliberately develop those skills to make you better to feed your passion.

Think about the investment supervisors, flights, units, etc. spend on getting their Airmen to their 5-level, with the goal of getting them to be able to do the mission. What would be the result on the climate/culture of a unit and the professionalism of the organization if just half that time was spent on helping their Airmen better execute Airmanship and the Profession of Arms. Instead, when it comes to professional development, we outsource it. We send Airmen to a Community College of the Air Force course, send them to PME, etc. And, we let them go, often times kicking and screaming because of the “impact” we think it will have on the mission. So, what does the Airman do? He or she goes kicking and screaming, thinking it is irrelevant to the mission, their purpose in the Air Force, which they have replaced with their trade instead of their true profession--Airmanship, being a part of the Profession of Arms. In their minds, AFSC > Profession of Arms.

Airmanship is actually what creates a commonality and clarity of purpose of what we do. It creates a true culture of inclusion. All are valued and all are equally invested. I am not saying we should eliminate tribes, believing we are a part of the BEST this or that. Airmanship eliminates the thought that we are a part of the most IMPORTANT this or that because we understand that what is truly important is the Profession, not the trade. We all then understand each of us is relevant and dependent on each other.

So, the basic concept of the Duality of Being an Airman is an understanding that we have to equally invest/develop/coach/mentor/train in our Profession and our AFSC. They have to be at least equal: Profession of Arms = Air Force Specialty. I think you can make a strong argument though that for the institution of the Air Force to survive, for what we value as an institution to continue, our equation for Airmanship development needs to become...

Profession of Arms ≥ Air Force Specialty