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NEWS | May 9, 2011

Chief's Corner - Why Support a Professional Organization?

By Chief Master Sgt. Kevin Stephens 11th Operations Group chief master sergeant

We have all been solicited by one professional organization or another at some point in our career. In fact, many of you have been encouraged to join a professional organization after hearing the sales pitch from the "Billy Mays" of that particular organization. There are some of you who have been tempted to join but have not followed through and there a few of you who have taken the next step by becoming an active participant in helping accomplish the professional organization's mission after joining. Whether you fall into the category of those who have been tempted, the many who have joined, or the few that have become active participants, I hope to spark interest in each of you to reach out and find or continue to support the professional organization which is best suited for you.

Three specific benefits that I will highlight in this article for supporting professional organizations are professional growth, personal satisfaction and making a lasting impact. While these three reasons cannot encompass every motivation, they are at the heart of why we join professional organizations and why they exist. As Airmen, we must continue to grow in order to become better leaders, mentors and wingmen throughout our career.

Being a leader, mentor, and wingman begins the moment that we make the decision to join the Air Force, not when a particular rank is achieved. Organizations like the Top Three, Mid-Tier Council, Airman of Distinction, Company Grade Officer Council, etc, allow members at all levels to become involved and gain valuable skills and knowledge through a cooperative effort. The task laid before you will not always be found in a manual or an Air Force Instruction. Many times we are faced with challenges that we have never faced before and would not be able to handle had we not been able to learn and grow from those around us.

As a former Shirt, being part of the First Sergeant's Council stands out most for me. I found more personal growth and experience from being surrounded by other first sergeants who all shared the same goal of taking care of Airmen in the very best way. Additionally, while on the first sergeant council, I was afforded the opportunity to serve as the senior mentor to many different professional organizations such as the Dorm Council, Mid-Tier Council, Airmen of Distinction, and many other base committees. These opportunities were very special to me because they opened up even more doors on a completely different level by allowing me to provide advice and oversight to these new and upcoming leaders. In my opinion, there is no better feeling than being able to work in the background and watch the Airmen around you grow and make a difference in the lives of the Airmen around them. I call this ultimate sharing!

As an Air Force member, you are in a unique position to not only effect squadron, group, and wing leadership but also outside the Air Force at local, state, and federal levels. Volunteering for committee work or becoming a board member/officer of local or national chapters, not only helps develop skills needed to advance in any aspect of life, but places you in a position, to potentially implement changes directly affecting Airmen and their families. Taking an active role allows you to make a difference within the military environment and local community.

The reward of personal satisfaction is not tangible, rather it is a feeling obtained when you play a role in the success of an Air Force mission, community restoration project, humanity relief effort, the smiles you provide as you mentor a young child or visit a Wounded Warrior. Many professional organizations provide the means and opportunity to get involved in programs that we often want to be involved with, but simply don't know how. You are also able to make new friends as you network and establish stronger bonds with those working beside you. These are friendships that will last for the rest of your life and bonds that will not be broken by separation of time or distance.

As these new friendships and relationships strengthen, our efforts to protect the future of those serving before us and those coming behind us becomes increasingly more important. Personal satisfaction gained when you attend a Veterans of Foreign Wars meeting, a re-enlistment, or a Basic Military Training graduation also serves as a reminder that we must work together to preserve the way of life we have been privileged to have within the Air Force.

Many professional organizations work diligently to insure that our quality of life while serving, and after retirement or separation, is maintained to the highest standard possible. Organizations like the Air Force Sergeant's Association work countless hours to serve as an advocate on enlisted issues, whether active duty, Air National Guard, Retired, a Veteran, or family member. They lobby United States Congress on a myriad of issues from medical care, job security, and pay to commissary privileges and education benefits. Being a part of organizations like these gives you a bigger voice (strength in numbers) to be heard by the people that will ultimately make the decisions that will affect your everyday life.

From dorm resident concerns to issues affecting retirement benefits. From highway clean-up to building houses in the local community. No matter your grade, job or position there is an organization out there that can benefit from what you have to offer.

Remember, being a part of the Air Force allows all of us to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. Being an Airman is not just putting on a uniform or maintaining and enforcing standards. As an Airman, we are writing the history books of tomorrow. As our children and grandchildren pick up their books to study, they will read stories, and captions to pictures, that speak of the heroic men and women than helped transform nations by advancing freedom and equality.

Taking the first step and sitting down to talk with a recruiter resulted in the exciting life you now live in the Air Force. Now, take the next step and become an active member of a professional organization. Get involved, make a difference, and be proud to represent your unit, base, service and local community.