Commentary by Lt. Col. Jasin Cooley
50th Security Forces Squadron commander
You have all stood tall and volunteered to serve in the military of a nation at war. This selfless act cannot be marginalized or dismissed, and I feel privileged to work with men and women of such character and ability. Senior Airman Daniel West, 50th Security Forces Squadron patrolman and response force leader, recently asked me, “Have you ever met Airmen whose motivation and drive keeps you on your toes because they push you to be better at your job?” I was humbled by the thought and responded, “Yes, every day!”
To the Air Force’s misfortune, I have also met Airmen utterly mired in drudgery, some profoundly bored and others seriously unhappy about their decision to serve. I suspect a sizeable portion of these bored and unhappy Airmen unconsciously wear blinders which obscure the opportunities surrounding them. The military as a whole has a lot to offer Airmen in return for making the sacrifices demanded of military service, but the burden is largely on you to capitalize on these opportunities. You need to volunteer!
Will volunteering result in more work? Absolutely! Consider this: your initial act of volunteering for military service has undoubtedly caused you more work than most of your civilian peers. But akin to those who we used to call ‘dorm rats’ at Kunsan Air Base — Airmen who never left base, those who never again raised their hands when an opportunity arose. Not only do they miss out on enriching life experiences, they are most certainly limiting their careers. First Lt. Jacob Paulson, 50 SFS director of operations, recently stated, “Volunteering is the key to upward mobility in the service.” Unfortunately, there remains a strong tendency to avoid volunteering. This could not be more self-defeating. From a practical standpoint, volunteering for additional duties, community service and career-broadening jobs helps win a reputation as a “go-getter.” Moreover, your wider breadth of experience and expertise increases marketability.
Throughout my career I have heard security forces Airmen lament about the apparent inaccessibility of staff jobs in the squadrons. I suspect this is the case in most other units. More often than not, these troops revealed they never actually applied for a recently advertised job. When asked for their rationale, the answer invariably resembles: “I didn’t apply because only [insert radical, rumor-inspired generalization here] get those jobs.” Yet with troubling frequency, I have had very few applicants for those staff jobs — and occasionally no applicants at all. This fear or aversion to volunteering becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy as squadron leadership must in turn ask for applicants — which subsequently lead to impressions of favoritism.
The Air Force provides a thick catalog of experiences, all at the low price of a little extra work. In hindsight, even those labor-intensive additional duties for which I was “volun-told” to do provided many enriching experiences.
Supervisors, there is a role for you too! Taking care of people is a common phrase in the Air Force lexicon, but I fear we relegate this broad and important concept to a strictly defensive connotation, keeping them fed and clothed, providing fair evaluations, etc. Taking care of your troops also means challenging them to grow by providing them opportunities to do so. Reflectively, I think all supervisors understand this necessitates their troops’ volunteerism; however, relying on them to volunteer may not always be enough. Everyone has a comfort zone and some people have a comfort zone barely an inch wide. To erase the boundaries of their troops’ comfort zones, I encourage supervisors to not only actively seek additional opportunities for their subordinates, but to sometimes provide a hint of extra encouragement. Furthermore, supervisors should not stand in the way of their troops who are volunteering for jobs of increased responsibility.
I will always remain humbled and honored to stand beside the fine Americans who have raised their hands to answer our Nation’s call. Volunteerism and selflessness was central to the formation of the Republic and remains deeply rooted in the American psyche. I hope all military members recognize further volunteerism is but the next logical step after their first, profoundly selfless act of voluntarily swearing to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
Volunteering enriches the person and the Service.