“My EPR is coming due! I need to get some base/community service in so I can get a bullet.” Sound familiar? I wish I could say that I have never said a version of this, but I think all of us have at one point. Although serving is ultimately a good thing, we carry this bullet-forging mentality with us into others areas of our profession and forget what service is really all about.
Serving others around base in a Top 3, Rising 6, AADD, etc. is a great thing to do. Serving others in the community is a great thing to do as well. However, when we are doing it just to get a bullet, are we truly serving? This is something I had been asked before by young NCOs and have asked myself when I was told I needed to get some community involvement. Basically, are we trying to perpetuate a “fake it until you make it” mentality? We are trying to fabricate a community of dedicated Airmen who are willing to serve selflessly by motivating them to do so for selfish reasons.
My personal opinion is that any act of service to another is a great thing. Even when I have been volun-told to do certain things, afterwards I had a sense of pride in the fact I helped to make a difference. Honestly, it sometimes took a boot in the butt to get me out of my comfort zone and to do this. We have all been part of these scenarios where we see those who were clearly there just to get their name on the list and did just enough to get the bullet. This is apparent to everyone that they are here just for that reason alone. This is a shame as they are not even attempting to gain some value from the experience.
We are all extremely busy. We have workplace demands, PME distance learning, studying for promotion, off-duty education, caring for our Airmen, and, oh yeah, an outside life too. The last thing many of us want to do is give another moment of our time to serve another and this article is not about trying to motivate you to do that. My goal is to explain my view on service and what a servant really is.
Ironically, the title ‘sergeant’ is derived from an old French word ‘serjant’ meaning servant1. Over the years, it has kept its meaning and even the definition (from multiple dictionaries) for a servant includes those employed by the government. We are servants. Even though we often feel like Alfred Pennyworth from Batman, we are not meant to be that type of servant. We are servants in the sense of someone willing to offer their life in support of a cause. In our case, it is in the defense of the Constitution of the United States of America. Someone who is willing serve our nation.
As Airmen, we have the core value of “service before self” and I stand firm in this being the most under appreciated and truly misunderstood value we have. The only time it comes up is when the boss is trying to hose you. “I need you to work this weekend. I don’t care about your plans…remember ‘service before self’” “You need to appreciate this deployment and remember your core values.” This mentality is the direct result of the “fake it until you make it” mentality. We push service as a box to fill rather than an opportunity to make those around us better.
One leadership style often discussed, but quickly dismissed is the servant leadership model. This model suggests we place the needs of others above our own. When we take care of the team’s needs (up and down the chain), they have the ability to grow even stronger. There is very little debate suggesting that servant leadership is not the most effective model of leadership. Some of the greatest leaders of all time are classified as servant leaders: Jesus, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, Jr. to name just a few. Their examples and legacies live on much longer than other leaders. Think of all of the followers Jesus has to this day. Think about how every city in America has a street named after Martin Luther King. It is because these leaders inspired others through acts of service. There was no question the needs of those on their team came first.
In my own career when I placed the needs of my team over my own, they have always responded in amazing ways. The gestures do not have to even be big. The person who trained me on being a flightline expediter told me that I did not get lunch until everyone on my team did. This was really a challenge because expediters live in their truck and often their lunches are staring right at them on the passenger seat throughout the day. However, it was a small gesture that reminded to meet the needs of the team first. It was much bigger than a simple lunch; it was a reminder to place myself in their shoes each day.
When we are able to place ourselves in the shoes of our leaders and subordinates, we can better understand the needs they have. I remember once being over tasked with all sorts of things and I was staying late all week to get them done. Once I put those fires out, I still had to write a decoration for one of my ratees. As I sat down at a desk, 2 hours after my day ended, I opened my email to see my team lead took care of it for me. This random act of kindness was powerful! He certainly did not have to do this, he did it because he placed himself in my shoes and thought about how he could serve me. You better believe I looked for every opportunity to pay him back after that.
Service is more than a checked box on your EPR. Service to our nation and others is a higher calling. It is an opportunity to make a difference in another’s life. It is our chance as a sergeant to show our team they matter to us. It is our chance to make a lasting impression on their lives that will create a “pay it forward” mentality as opposed to the volun-told culture. Once you understand the power of this concept and experience the joy of enriching another’s life, service becomes a calling not a tasking.
- Online Etymology Dictionary. Sergeant: http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=sergeant
I agree with you that service to others is always something worth doing. Now, if the Air Force would let service come from an individual’s willingness to give of himself, it would be that much more noteworthy. Forced service for the sake of meeting a promotion board’s or supervisor’s expectations of a well-rounded Airman demeans the selflessness that should be the motivation for doing it.