It's not the fall, it's the recovery

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Karen Rolirad
  • 315th Training Squadron commander
As commanders, we must contend with hard decisions when it comes to determining and delivering punishment to our subordinates. Some of the tough questions we have to answer are: Does the punishment fit the crime? Should it be judicial or non-judicial? What impact will the punishment have on the offending Airman or the squadron? Will the Airman rehabilitate or will the Airman continue to make the same mistakes? All of these factors must be taken into consideration before a final decision can be made and that final decision is never easy.

Discipline serves many purposes. First, it provides the Airman with a wakeup call and lets the Airman know that inappropriate actions are contrary to good order and discipline, as well as the core values of the U. S. Air Force. Second, it gives the individual time to reflect on his actions. From a Letter of Counseling to an Article 15, Airmen have three days to reflect and respond before accepting their punishment. It's during this time that commanders hope the greatest learning occurs. Third, the punishment of one can serve as a warning to others. Those who may be in danger of making the same or similar mistakes see the consequences they may face if they don't adequately course correct. Finally, punishment serves as tool for rehabilitation because a new bar will be set. Punishment, such as loss of pay, loss of rank or additional duties, are often recoverable, but the next step is truly in the hands of the Airman.

Are mistakes recoverable? Can Airmen rehabilitate into responsible Air Force professionals? Can they strive to be Generals, commanders, command chiefs, Chiefs, supervisors and great non-commissioned officers? The best answer to this question is: it depends. In my opinion, attitude impacts success. Everyone falters at some point in their life. The real testament to character though isn't how many times someone falls, but how they recover.

Punishment can go one of two ways. The Airman can be truly penitent by accepting the responsibility and consequences for his actions. He can use the experience as a learning point and strive for future success in the Air Force, or the Airman can continue down a negative road until he is finally court-martialed, serves prison time or is dismissed. In my time as a commander, I have witnessed both.

The most rewarding outcome is watching an Airman succeed. I have had the pleasure of commanding several Airmen of character. I have seen Airmen with outstanding records falter or lose stripes, but they accepted responsibility for their actions and grew from their experience. I have witnessed Airmen with habitual failures pick themselves up and become student leaders, community ambassadors, and successful officers, NCOs, military training leaders and commanders. When asked what made them transform, the answer was simple: an outstanding supervisor, mentor, spouse or leader who believed in them and cared enough to help them recover.

The U.S. Air Force has a standard of conduct that we should all strive to uphold. Our core values - Integrity First, Service Before Self and Excellence in All We Do - serve as the foundation for our actions. Sometimes the judgment of our Airmen prevents them from achieving the values that we hold dear. I believe it's at this time that they need us, their commanders, supervisors and peers, the most. We must hold them responsible for their actions and help them recover from their failures.

In the words of Gen. Colin Powell, "There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work and learning from failure."