JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md. –
All Airmen are familiar with the Air Force’s Core Values: “Integrity First, Service Before Self and Excellence in All We Do”. Most Airmen would agree the most difficult core value to embody is “Service Before Self”. At face value, one could define this idea simply as “putting the Air Force before everything you do”. Air Force core values should be easy to explain and understand without justification- especially to our incoming Airmen. In a time where the Air Force actively promotes the importance of mental health practices, self-care and resiliency, is it possible one of our core values sends a conflicting message?
Airmen serving in our military come from many diverse backgrounds and places. They hold various beliefs and have lived a variety of experiences. Each individual has a different perspective on what is important to them and what motivates them to do better as they navigate daily life. The Air Force’s Core Values are intended to be intertwined with every aspect of an Airman’s life regardless of age, rank and duty title. Is it possible that the core value “Service Before Self” is negatively impacting their mental health when they need to care for themselves before their service?
All of our core values should be as simple, straight forward and blatant as “Integrity First” and “Excellence in All We Do”. Is it possible a simple revision could make “Service Before Self” just as comprehensible while changing the way Airmen understand their service in relation to themselves?
What if we changed “Service Before Self” to “Service Within Self”?
This would look like taking care of ourselves without the constant fear of compromising our military service. “Service Within Self” would encompass the importance of military service, self-care and resiliency and acknowledge the necessity of aligning all three. It allows an individual to embrace the importance of integrating their military service with, and alongside their, personal values and to ultimately provide an understanding of how paramount this integration is.
Furthermore, Core Values should be ideas which are applicable in and out of uniform. They should be so ingrained they follow individuals even after separation or retirement. For veterans, service will take on new meaning and the continuation of this value will provide a framework by which to live. It may seem abstract to apply “Service Before Self” when they may no longer be on orders but “Service Within Self” is an idea which translates well no matter what shape their life after military takes.
As service members, we must always understand the indispensable obligation of our service and not betray the commitment and sacrifices we made when we choose this path. Military service will always include selflessness, due-diligence and sacrifice. “Service Within Self” isn’t imploring Airmen to haphazardly fit service in where it happens to work for one’s own interests. Instead, it is adding transparency to the importance of self-care so that one may complete their service with unfailing excellence and integrity.
A simple change of a single word could have a major impact on how ALL Airmen view their commitment to the Air Force and themselves.
SSgt Jerald Green is a Threat Analyst assigned to the 316th Security Forces Group at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland.