Attitude and initiative: the hallmark of our core values

PRESIDIO OF MONTEREY, Calif -- In yet another era of force shaping, we are faced with the fact that not everyone who joins the Air Force can stay. But not everyone who misses the mark in technical training school should be shown the door. Who do we keep?

Just last week, I was reading Malcolm Gladwell's book, "Outliers: The Story of Success." In particular, I was intrigued at his examination of remarkable people and how they are "invariably the beneficiaries of hidden advantages and extraordinary opportunities and cultural legacies that allow them to learn and work hard and make sense of the world in ways others cannot."

When the Air Force recruits trainees and sends them off to basic military training, we have in our midst the top 25 percent our Nation has to offer; all volunteers ready to be inculcated with the advantages, opportunities and legacies that a life of Integrity, Service and Excellence will provide. They make it through basic fired-up and ready for training in their respective specialties.

Here at the Defense Language Institute, we receive roughly the very top one percent of those young Airmen based on their aptitude and potential; they usually have astronomically high Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, or ASVAB, and the Defense Language Aptitude Battery scores.

We set them upon a rigorous course of study at an intense pace that will challenge even the brightest of them. The demands on their time are incredibly high academically, militarily, physically and socially. For the first time in many of their lives, they actually have to study. Success in this environment does not come easily or naturally no matter how well they did in high school, college, on the ASVAB or DLAB.

The truth is that despite all the metrics, there is no number that guarantees success -at DLI or anywhere. So like Mr. Gladwell, I started examining the intangible characteristics; the "hidden advantages, opportunities and legacies" these young Airmen have that will ensure their success in the Air Force.

Realistically, I know not everyone at DLI is "wired to be a linguist", and not everyone who joins the Air Force is "wired to be an Airman." But in the big-wide-middle between graduated linguists and Airmen on the downward spiral as soon-to-be-civilians are some incredible Airmen whose skills and talents might be better directed toward another specialty. These Airmen are still thirsting to contribute to our Nation, our Air Force and stand out in a crowd among our Country's best and brightest. So what do they have? What am I looking for? What does the Air Force need? What I have found is quite simple: attitude and initiative.

The challenge is looking past the metrics to gain insight on the intrinsic value of individuals. We are turning out high-performing linguists from DLI at a stunning level. For those who could not complete their original course of study, many are excelling in other career fields where their talents are being harnessed. In either case, the Airmen are still the top one percent, but more importantly, they have demonstrated remarkable attitude and initiative - the hallmark of Integrity, Service and Excellence.

As leaders, we must continue to provide an environment of opportunity for young Airmen to excel; encourage their initiative and direct their positive attitude. Test scores can only say so much. Attitude and initiative says it all.