Are you "just" the expectation?

GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- Every now and then in my career when I was not so full of my own opinion and ideas, I would take time to listen and would actually glean some good information and advice. As I reflect over my Air Force career, one of those rare moments stills stands out and today it is still some of the best advice I have ever received.

I was a young Airman with less than two years under my inexperienced belt and had the opportunity to talk with a crusty old chief who, at the time, had 32 years in the Air Force. Our conversation was during indoctrination due to changing units in a maintenance squadron and I remember thinking, this guy looks really old. Maybe that is why I listened. I probably figured he deserved some of my attention just by being able to exist so long.

Anyway, he was going on about the unit and things and I must have been staring with a glassy look in my eye because he paused and looked straight at me. Believe me, at that time when someone that old with skin like leather and more stripes than sleeve stops and stares at you, it gets your attention. He said, "Airman Best, how many folks do you think we have in this organization?" I can't remember exactly what I said, but it was probably something like "a bunch."

Heck, I probably never considered that and for that matter why would I? At that time it was all about me and my small informal circle of comrades. I tried to stay away from the masses where I felt uncomfortable and exposed. He continued by saying "I interview every Airman, NCO and SNCO that works in this squadron. Each one has their own personality, their own story, and usually they try to put on a good first impression, but you know what really makes the difference?" Not realizing it was a rhetorical question, I said, "no." He gave a small grin and said "it is simply the expectation. Do they exceed my expectation? Not just during my interview, but later as they learn the job and continue to grow. You see Airman Best, the Air Force tells me what to expect from a one-striper like yourself and my experience tells me what to expect from a one-striper like yourself. The question is, do you meet that expectation or do you exceed that expectation?"

I could go on as there was certainly more detail to the conversation, like what about those who do not meet the expectation? I will leave that to the creative minds of the readers, but I must admit his question really got me to thinking. Am I just the expectation? In other words, am I average?

The idea of being average started to become repugnant to me and I found myself reflecting not only upon what I had done in my Air Force career for that short period, but what I had done in my life. Yes, for whatever reason, that question affected me in a big way.

Needless to say, that started me on a new track in that I promised myself that I did not want to just meet the expectation of anyone, especially my boss. I would always try to exceed what was expected of my grade and try to instill that motto in the folks that I had the privilege of supervising.

Well, that brings me to my close. Air Force instruction tells its military members what is expected of them for each rank they have the privilege of wearing. That combined with experience tells your superiors what to expect of you when you show up at a new unit. Knowing that, I challenge all of us to exceed that expectation as it will almost surely guarantee not only a successful career, but it will also ensure our Air Force becomes stronger and better each and every day.