Commentary by Lt. Col. Daniel Clairmont
50th Civil Engineer Squadron commander
If you were asked, “What are the Air Force core values,” I would bet good money that you would immediately respond, “Integrity First; Service Before Self; and Excellence In All We Do.” However, being able to say the words is not enough. Every Airman is expected to live by those words. To do that, it’s imperative that we spend some time thinking about what they really mean. The words themselves could hardly be simpler but living by them involves a daily series of conscious, sometimes difficult, decisions which may test our moral courage and commitment. As with every other part of our lives, preparation is the key. One way to help prepare yourself to live up to our core values is to expend some mental energy considering what they really mean. Let’s look closer at just one of these values; “Excellence in All We Do.”
When I look at the phrase I see two parts. The first part, “Excellence,” tells us what’s expected. The second part, “In All We Do,” tells us when it’s expected. The second part is rather straight forward. It’s expected all the time. There are no limits placed on the expectation of excellence. It is NOT only while you’re on base, only in uniform, only during duty hours, or only when someone else is looking. It’s all the time and in every activity we undertake, whether personal or professional, because we are Airmen 24 hours a day. But what is “Excellence” and how do we know if we’ve achieved it?
The next time you leave Schriever’s restricted area, before you enter the North Entry Control Facility, look up. There is a quote on the wall which says, “Excellence is a journey, not a destination.” Put plainly, you do not achieve excellence, you pursue it. Excellence is not the same as being excellent. You can do many things in life and get an excellent result. If I told you that someone got an “A” on a paper, or a 90 on their physical fitness test, or an “Excellent” inspection rating, would you say that demonstrates excellence? I’d say maybe. Those are all examples of excellent results but they are only indicators of excellence. Excellence is about attitude, continuous improvement, and what you do after you receive an excellent result.
Here’s a short “Excellence” quiz. Do you stop doing pushups as soon as you hit the number you need to get 10 points because the AF doesn’t give extra credit, or do you see how many more you can do because you want to know if you can beat your personal best? The former gives an excellent result, the later is excellence. How often do you use phrases like, “Its close enough,” or one of my personal annoyances, “We’ve always done it the old way so why change?” People who look at things that way are not in the pursuit of excellence. They are satisfied by mediocrity. How about those folks that believe an established standard is the goal? Standards are generally a minimally acceptable level. Working to exceed standards and expecting the same of the people around you is not asking too much, it is excellence.
Admittedly, there are not enough hours in the day to make everything you touch better all at once. That’s not realistic. However, as you go about your day, I challenge you to pick something you can influence in one or more parts of your life and make it better. It could be to improve yourself physically or mentally, streamline a process at work, or even strengthen a personal relationship. It could be anything you choose, but choose something. It will challenge you, keep life interesting, and make the world around you better. So the next time you get asked to recite the AF core values, don’t just say the words; think about what they mean and ask yourself if you’ve lived up them today.