Whose responsibility is it?

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Mark Villella
  • 93rd Air and Ground Operations Wing command chief master sergeant
Many people are voicing their concerns regarding today's Airmen who do not follow military customs and courtesies, uniform instructions and basic discipline. Your first thought is to wonder who their first sergeant is, but you should be looking at yourself to solve the problem. 

According to AFI 36-2113, The First Sergeant, first sergeant's work directly for and derive their authority from the unit commander. 

As the vital link between the commander, enlisted personnel and support agencies, the first sergeant must ensure the enlisted force understands the commander's policies, goals and objectives. 

Specifically, first sergeants communicate with unit leadership, supervisors and members to ensure discipline is equitably maintained; and morale, welfare and health needs for the enlisted force are met. 

Nowhere in that description does it imply they are the only or primary maintainers of discipline. 

When officers get commissioned or when Airmen graduate basic training, they learn and gain a good understanding of customs and courtesies, uniform instructions and basic military discipline. 

However, Airmen can fail to follow standard because of our mentorship. It's our duty as officers and enlisted members to enforce standards. 

As Chief Master Sgt. Kevin Slater, 1st Fighter Wing command chief at Langley Air Force Base, Va., would say, "expectations are what you tolerate." 

The Air Force's expectations are written in our instructions and it's our toleration, or variance of those expectations, that's providing the "broken windows" our Airmen are exploring. 

The article, "Broken Windows", was written by James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling about community policing. In the mid-1970s, the state of New Jersey announced a "Safe and Clean Neighborhoods Program" which was designed to improve the quality of community life in 28 cities. 

As part of that program, the state provided money to help cities take police officers out of their patrol cars and assign them to walking beats. In this program, rules were defined and enforced in collaboration with the "regulars" on the street. Another neighborhood might have different rules but these, everybody understood, were the rules for this neighborhood. 

In relation to us, we would be the police, the "regulars" and our neighborhood is our Air Force and base. Chief Master Sgt. Murphy, former 820th Security Forces Group superintendent, pointed out to me that our desk is our patrol car. 

It is our responsibility to get out from behind our desks and walk around to enforce standards. The NCO enlisted tier has this responsibility. Policing doesn't have to provide a negative connotation. 

If there was a "sheriff" on Moody, it would have to be Chief Master Sgt. Darryl Gagne, 23rd Component Maintenance Squadron superintendent. 

Some people may avoid the dining facility because Chief Gagne is there enforcing Air Force standards. He's not there looking for violations, he's there to eat. 

Hardly a lunch meal goes by where he doesn't have to fix a broken window. He's enforcing our standards, because he's been charged to enforce standards whether he wants to or not. We need to have the same mindset as the chief. 

A second point discussed in the article compared how social psychologists and police officers tend to agree that if a window in a building is broken and is left unrepaired, then all the rest of the windows will soon be broken. 

When Airmen deviate from standards it provides the first broken window, soon to be followed by other broken windows. When Airmen are not properly corrected, more individuals can follow their lead. 

When we as professionals don't enforce the standard, we are showing that no one cares--just one example of the broken windows our Air Force has created. 

Most people don't enjoy correcting people, but like Chief Gagne, I've been charged to uphold and maintain a standard. So if you have to correct someone and you're uncomfortable, you're not alone. 

While in Iraq last year, I told someone they were out of uniform and I assumed they'd fix themselves. When I got on the treadmill next to them, they were still out of uniform. So I politely reiterated what the standard was (policing) and they kept running. 

This individual repeatedly asked me why I was bothering him. After about two minutes of this, I hit the treadmill STOP button while he was mid-stride. This immediately got his attention. After a few minutes of one-on-one mentoring he was released. 

Fix a correction if it can be easily done right on the spot. If you disagree, it can be discussed later. 

Our Air Force needs everyone to provide mentorship and enforcing standards whenever and wherever needed. Maintaining all the "windows" is not solely a first sergeant responsibility...it's a community responsibility. 

We're members of the best Air Force in the world, so let's keep it that way.