The Air Force company

  • Published
  • By Col. Barry Simon
  • 17th Medical Group commander
The 185 people in the 17th Medical Group, and anyone who has worked with me in the last seven years, have heard this. My 19-year-old son might be embarrassed that I'm publishing this, but the account is worth repeating and it's something I can write credibly about because I am so convinced that these foundational principles are the right way to live. At the risk of sounding repetitive, but really just being consistent, take this to heart: If you are active duty, you have sworn to "support and defend the constitution of the United States."

If you're a spouse of an active duty member, you've committed yourself to the same principle. If you're retired from military service, you've already fulfilled that obligation. There is not one generation since our grandparents who have not had to live through some kind of conflict overseas. The 18-yearolds volunteering now are an even more dedicated lot - they know they're going to war.

We are part of a particularly unique and enveloping culture. There is a discernable difference between the military services and General Motors, Ford, IBM, Cisco, Boeing or US Steel. We live by a set of Core Values whose words may differ between services but whose ideology is consistent: Integrity First, Service Before Self, and Excellence In All We Do. Every other large company has a similar mantra:

- GM: "Continuous improvement; customer enthusiasm; innovation; integrity; teamwork; individual respect and responsibility."

- IBM: "Dedication to every client's success; innovation that matters; trust and personal responsibility in all relationships."

But we live our philosophy on both sides of the perimeter fence. If you live on base (or off base in a predominantly military community) you know how your next door neighbor will react to any situation: with integrity, a sense of service before self, and internally motivated to excellence.

On the other hand, if you live in Detroit, Mich., Chicago, Ill., or Pullman, Wash., the chief executive officers of the other Fortune 500 companies in those cities don't demand their core values on and off duty. So you can't really be sure how your neighbor will act, because the strongest restraining influence is punishment under civil law, which only works for law abiding citizens. The tasks you complete or the programs you manage are part of a larger intention for what our company does: "Deliver sovereign options for the defense of the United States of America and its global interests."

You're not an ant working for the good of the colony; that's far too demeaning. But if you don't understand and keep focused on the ultimate goal of military defense, you risk getting caught in everyday minutiae and being sidetracked by non-contributor y activity.

If you're a mechanic, it's not the bolt, it's the airplane; if you're a medic, it's not the sore throat, it's the 5,000 lbs of fuel the patient has to deliver this afternoon; if you're a linguist, it's not the word, it's the nuance you interpret that's important to the decision maker who is going to commit resources. There are other simple rules of engagement that are part of the military culture that create an orderly environment for positive change:

- Break, rather than make, roadblocks.

- Your first answer to anyone should be "yes," or at the very least "I'll find a way to do that."

- Don't walk past a mistake.

- Zero tolerance for sexual, racial or cultural harassment.

- Treat everyone with respect, because they are human beings.

We are held to a higher standard by our own choice and by the people who depend on us. I can hope, but I don't expect you to keep this article and re-read it every day. If you're with this company because you're committed to the oath you swore to, you'll see that I described what you expect of yourself... and my son won't be embarrassed.