Core Values: Why have them, what do they mean?

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Janet Taylor
  • 56th Medical Operations Squadron commander
Why have core values? 

Core values tell us the price of admission to the Air Force. Integrity, service before self and excellence in all we do are simple words that epitomize the values of our military profession. The core values are much more than minimum standards. They remind us of what it takes to get the mission done. 

They inspire us to do our very best at all times. They are the common bond among all comrades in arms and they are the glue that unifies the force and ties us to the great warriors and public servants of the past. Core values make the military what it is; without them, we cannot succeed. They are the values that instill confidence, earn lasting respect and create willing followers. They're the values that anchor us in the most difficult situations and provide mental and physical courage when we enter combat. 

The Honorable Sheila Widnall, former Secretary of the Air Force stated, "They are the three pillars of professionalism that provide the foundation for military leadership at every level." Air Force personnel, whether officer, enlisted, civil servant or contractor, must display honesty, courage, responsibility, openness, self-respect and humility in the face of the mission. 

All of us must accept accountability and practice justice, which means all Air Force personnel must possess integrity first. At the same time, a person's "self" must take a back seat to Air Force service. Rules must be acknowledged and followed faithfully, other personnel must be respected as persons of fundamental worth. Discipline and self-control must be in effect always and there must be faith in the system. In other words, the price of admission to the Air Force demands that each of us place service before self. It's imperative we seek excellence in all we do whether it's product and service or resources excellence, community excellence or operations excellence. 

What do core values mean? 

In 1995, Secretary Widnall and Gen. Ronald Fogleman, former Air Force Chief of Staff, approved these core values for the U.S. Air Force. We start with integrity, because it is the essential element or the foundation on which other values are built. It's being honest with others as well as yourself and doing what's right at all times, even when no one sees you. Integrity remains the very bedrock of the military profession. Servicemembers possessing integrity will always do what's right, regardless of the circumstances, even when no one is looking. They will make no compromise in being honest in small things as well as great ones. 

Next is our military service -- an uncommon profession that calls for people with an enduring commitment and dedication to the mission. It requires us to have a sense of service before self. Each member must realize his or her needs are secondary to the needs of our great country. Upon entering the Air Force, we swear or affirm to support and defend the constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. We take this obligation freely without reservation. 

We thereby commit our lives in the defense of America and her citizens should that become necessary. No other profession expects its members to lay down their lives for friends, family or freedom, but our profession readily expects its members to willingly risk their lives in performing their professional duties. By voluntarily serving in the military, we accept unique responsibilities. In today's world, service to country requires not only a high degree of skill, but also a willingness to make personal sacrifices. 

We work long hours to provide the most combat capability possible for the taxpayer dollar. We go on temporary duty or permanent changes of station to harsh locations to meet the needs of the nation. We are on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week and that requires many personal sacrifices. Personal goals are important and often coincide with Air Force goals. 

However, there is no room for personal agendas that interfere with the needs of the Air Force or the interests of our government. Should a contingency arise that requires immediate deployment to a far corner of the globe, we go without complaint. Recognition of military heroism is inevitably a celebration of a supreme example of service before self. When Medal of Honor winner Capt. Lance Sijan, in the jungles of Vietnam, waved away the rescue helicopter that could have brought him back to friendly territory, he sealed his own fate but saved the helicopter crew from the guns of the enemy who surrounded him. 

This brings us to excellence, our third core value. Americans entrust military members with our nation's security. This encompasses many things, among which is the care of the nation's resources, the most treasured being the lives of those who serve. This makes competence or excellence in all things we do paramount. Doing one's best is not just a professional obligation; it's a moral one as well. If you've read the citations accompanying the award of the Medal of Honor to members of the U.S. Forces who distinguished themselves in combat or those accompanying the award of the Victoria Cross to members of the British or Canadian Forces, then you know what excellence can be in the military profession. 

Integrity first, service before self and excellence in all we do. These core values serve as our road map and set the standard for our behavior. They remind us of the importance of the profession we have chosen, the oath we have taken and the demands placed upon us as members of the professions at arms. The Air Force is not a social action agency. It is not an employment agency. We are professional Airmen entrusted with the security of our nation. The tools of our trade are lethal and we engage in operations that involve risk to human life and to untold national treasures. Because of what we do, our standards must be higher than those of society at large. The American public expects it of us. General Fogleman stated, "In the end, we earn the respect and trust of the American people because of the integrity we demonstrate."