What kind of Airman are you?

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Daniel Furliegh
  • 72nd Operations Support Squadron commander
"What do you do for a living?" This is a question I have asked dozens of Airmen over the past few years. The responses I have received to my inquiry have varied from, "I am ... a pilot ... a civil engineer ... an air battle manager ... a computer technician ... an air traffic controller ..." The list of Air Force specialties goes on and on.

The typical answers reflecting the respondents' occupation stand in stark contrast to the uniforms we wear every day. Whether we don the ABU, BDU or any combination of our blues, our occupation or specialty is identified by an extremely small percentage of the uniform. I argue less than 1 percent of our uniform identifies our specialty. Occupational badges measuring just 1-½ to 2-½ inches in width and 1 inch in height rest above the left breast pocket, and these are the only occupational symbols displayed. The flight suit chosen by most aircrew members as the uniform of the day reflects a similar occupation identification with a smaller embroidered badge or wings located on their name tags.

Most of us proudly display our occupational badges or aircrew wings, and rightfully so. Typically, these badges or wings were earned through weeks, months and years of rigorous training and enduring commitment to be the best at what we do. However, I argue what we do is so much more than what is displayed by our occupational badges or aircrew wings.

What if you ask a member of the United States Marine Corps the same question? "What do you do for a living?" They will likely swell with pride and answer loudly, "I'm a Marine!" From the time a Marine recruit steps off the bus at the Marine Corps Recruiting Depot at Parris Island, S.C., or the depot in San Diego they are taught the importance of teamwork and the tradition of Semper Fidelis (Latin for "Always Faithful"). Semper Fi has served as the Marine Corps motto since 1883 and remains a vital element of instilling the ethics and values of the Marine Corps into every Marine. An undying commitment to the Corps and our country, Marines are taught once a Marine, always a Marine. There is no such thing as an ex-Marine.

This unparalleled emphasis on teamwork and commitment is a tradition the Marine Corps has at least a 64-year head start on the Air Force. Yet, our Core Values, the Airman's Creed and a recent desire to develop a Wingman Culture across the force are encouraging signs. I am not suggesting we adopt Semper Fi as our service motto or rallying cry, but there certainly is no harm in following the Marine Corps lead of recognizing our profession ahead of our occupation.

Ninety-nine percent of our uniforms reflect our chosen profession and service. When we don our uniforms, onlookers first identify us as members of the profession of arms, a profession we share with Soldiers, Sailors and Marines. When we don our uniforms, we represent our service, the United States Air Force. An honorable service of aviators saturated with the blood, sweat and tears of the millions of Airmen who came before us.

So, when you are asked, "What do you do for a living?" Before answering with the typical occupational response, pause for a moment and recall the first line of our Airman's Creed. I encourage all of us to proudly respond:

"I am an American Airman!"