Act like you own the place

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Tim Karsten
  • 1st Special Operations Wing Inspector General Office
(Editor's note: Chief Master Sgt. Richard Parsons, 23rd Wing command chief, recently sent a base-wide email with this attached commentary to emphasize the importance of taking care of our workplace. "I went to great lengths to find this message because I think it sends a very valuable message about how we treat our base, facilities and offices," he said. "In a day when we have contractors that come to clean up after us, we seem to have forgotten it is our house. Enjoy the read.")

The brown root beer can laying on its side was as still as death in front of a car in the parking lot. To me it looked like a huge cancerous growth on the asphalt as I rounded the corner in search of an available spot for my car.

This was no ordinary parking lot. It was a barracks parking lot that was nearly full to capacity. This parking lot was also right next to the wing inspector general office where I work.

Luckily, I thought, the offending can lay right in the path of a young Airman I observed making his way across the parking lot to his vehicle. I imagined the Airman demonstrating his full commitment to the Air Force by taking immediate action and removing that out-of-place object left by another dastardly individual, one who is not suitable to wear a uniform. I watched my hero make his way right for the can, and then simply stepped right over the can as he continued on his way.

My hopes of seeing a remarkable act by my supposed hero were dashed to pieces in that one step, and I decided it was time to intervene. After parking my car, I walked over to the young man, who by now was in his truck. He removed himself from his vehicle to speak with me.

Well, I thought, at least, he knows how to talk with someone wearing chief stripes. The conversation went something like this:

"Young man, are you on active duty?"

"Yes sir."

"Did you see that can you stepped over back there?"

No real feedback came from the young man standing there in the open door and his civilian clothes.

"Do you know the difference between those who own and those who rent? Those who rent walk past the trash on the land they don't own and expect a laborer or the landlord to pick it up. Those who own the land know no one else will take the trash off their land so they stop, pick it up and take care of it personally."

I think I saw a glimmer of understanding.

"Don't worry about it now. I'll get the can. You go on your way. I just wanted to leave you with that thought."

With that I left him, grabbed a bag that was under the car next to his truck and then picked up the can on the road and dropped them in a dumpster. This only required a slight deviation from the normal path to my office.

Maybe I experienced what six retired chief master sergeants of the Air Force were discussing when they spoke to my class at the Senior NCO Academy. They sat side-by-side, oldest to youngest.

The oldest chief master sergeant of the Air Force said something that caught my attention. It was something like, "When I came in the service, the old guys there didn't think I was worth anything," Then he pointed to the one next to him. "When he came in, I didn't think he was worth anything."

He continued pointing at each retired chief master sergeant of the Air Force on the stage down the line generationally in the same manner. He reminded us all that the senior didn't think highly of the junior's generation when they joined the service.

Another chief master sergeant of the Air Force then made the point that leadership made the difference to each of the generations sitting up on the stage, and leadership is what made a difference to those sitting in the audience.

We apparently still need leaders who will make owners out of those who are part of today's Air Force -- Airmen who will stop and clean up a "mess" others have made and not just walk past it.

The Air Force is smaller now than it has ever been, but we are engaged in more operations than ever. There is no space left in today's Air Force for renters.