A new perspective on Air Force core values

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Ted Detwiler
  • 62nd Operations Group commander
During one of my former assignments, I had the opportunity to meet Mr. Dan McKinnon, the President and founder of North American Airlines. Most of you won't recognize North American Airlines as one of our largest commercial airlines, because it's not. Many of you that have deployed may recognize the name. Nearly all of us would recognize one of their aircraft and its distinct paint scheme sitting on the ramp waiting to take you and your fellow Airmen to or from the area of responsibility. 

At one point during the visit, Mr. McKinnon handed me a book he had written titled "Words of Honor," which is a compilation of quotes from some famous and not-so-famous sources. He told me he gives the book to all of his employees on their first day and tasks them to find one single quote within those 300-plus pages that means the most to them. The follow-up request is that each employee comes back and explains why they chose that specific quote. I finally got around to taking a look at the book some time later. After a lot of thought, here's my quote of choice. 

"It's not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are." - Roy Disney 

Two things struck me about this particular quote. First was the focus on decision making. Second was the emphasis on values. Let me explain. 

Every Airman is a leader. As leaders, we are all called upon to make the tough decisions that affect ourselves, our futures and our careers. More importantly, even the simplest of our decisions affect the lives of our fellow Airmen, our Air Force and our nation. That's a heavy load, regardless of rank or age. But we routinely do it without thinking about it, without delay and without fail. We do it every day. It's easy because we all share a common set of values - our core values. 

The Air Force core values of "integrity first, service before self and excellence in all we do" provide the framework for all our decisions. They are much more than a good bumper sticker, recruiting slogan or words on a poster. They define the basic framework for everything we do and every decision we make. 

Integrity first. Integrity comes first for a reason. It's all about doing what's right, what you believe to be right, every time, all the time. We expect it from each other. We demand it from each other. 

Service before self. We are members of the Air Force for a cause greater than ourselves. Do we get some personal benefits from being in the Air Force? Absolutely. They are both hard earned and well deserved. But deep inside all of us, whether you admit it or not, is a desire to be part of something bigger than ourselves. With that comes great responsibility. 

Excellence in all we do. Leaders expect nothing less from their subordinates. Subordinates should expect nothing less from their leaders. We know our values. They guide all of our decisions from the simplest to the most complex. At both extremes, the stakes can be enormous. But at both extremes, our core values make the right decision easy. 

Does making decisions based on the core values guarantee the right decision? Absolutely not. But it's far better to make the wrong decision for the right reasons than to make the wrong decision for the wrong reasons.