Standards: are you meeting them?

NAVAL AIR STATION CORRY STATION, Fla. -- Are you meeting the standards? "What standards," you ask? All of them.

The Air Force expects us to meet (and preferably, exceed) all of the standards that apply to us. And there are lots of them - Department of Defense Instructions, Air Force Instructions, MAJCOM Instructions, General Orders, Operating Instructions, Technical Orders, Local Policy Letters - not to mention all of the civilian laws we have to follow.

They govern our work performance, our appearance, our interactions with others, and our behavior on- and off-duty. Violations of some standards could result in catastrophe; violations of others might seem to have no discernable affect on anything. Yet we're expected to follow them all. We can't pick and choose which standards to follow because we agree with some and don't understand others - or because some seem important and others are perceived as petty.

Throughout my career I've had Airmen ask me why we have to comply with some seemingly unimportant standard. Oftentimes I know the reason behind the standard and explain it to them.

For instance; why can't we wear beards? Throughout history, military leaders have worn beards. Sure, but they didn't have to get a seal on a gas mask.

However, there are other standards for which I have no clue. Anyone know why we wear hats outside but not indoors? I don't. Yes, I've read some "theories" about this military tradition, but few of them ring true. Ultimately, the answer is; we do it because it says so in AFI 36-2903. It's a standard.

This apparently drives some Airmen crazy because they feel if we can't present a logical reason for the standard, then it's not valid. I have some advice for those Airmen: it isn't worth getting worked up over. Just put your hat on. Why can't the bulk of men's hair be greater than 1-1/4 inches? Why not one inch? Why not 1-1/2 inches? I don't know. Quit worrying about it and go get your hair cut.

Having standards makes it easy for anyone to succeed in the Air Force. It's like having a list of do's and don'ts to follow. Okay, it's a really big list of do's and don'ts, but it eliminates almost all of the grey areas. The do's tell you how and when you're supposed to wear your uniform; when you're supposed to report for duty; how to remove that aileron; etc. The don'ts tell you not to drive if you're intoxicated; not to cut out steps from the Technical Order; not to tell offensive jokes in the work environment... how much easier can the Air Force make it for us?

No matter what situation we find ourselves in, I guarantee there's an Air Force standard that will correctly guide our behavior. How does anyone mess this up? Unfortunately, some Airmen get the lists confused... or perhaps they don't know what's on the lists to begin with.

Supervisors have an obligation to ensure their Airmen are aware of - and comply with - all applicable guidance. But each of us as individuals needs to take the time and effort to ensure we know all of the standards that we are going to be held accountable for because we're the ones who will face the consequences if we fail to meet them. And it's important to get current, accurate information. Things are changing fast in today's Air Force. You might rely on the word of someone you trust to tell you what some standard is, but if you want to be certain, find out where the official guidance is and read it for yourself.

One great thing about standards is that they standardize things. If there's a standard way of doing most things in the Air Force, you can PCS from Japan to Germany and start work without missing a beat. Another great thing is that we don't have to worry about how someone else is doing their job. That is, we can count on each other to follow the rules - the standards - and we can more efficiently accomplish our unit's, and the Air Force's, missions.

Back when I went through BMT, we used to have to fold our T-shirts into 6-inch-wide rectangles. If an Airman couldn't do it right, the military training instructors would politely explain to him that if they couldn't count on him to correctly do something that simple, how could they count on him to work on a multi-million-dollar aircraft. Okay, they weren't exactly polite about it, but their logic was spot on - we follow the standards because every other Airman is counting on us to follow the standards.

The Air Force got it right when they decided to have "Integrity First" as our first core value. Integrity means that we will do what's right all of the time - not just when someone's looking or we think we won't get caught. But before we can do what's right, we have to know what's right. That's where the standards come in. Take the time to learn them; then follow them.

We're all counting on you.