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NEWS | Nov. 6, 2009

The Pursuit of Excellence

By Maj. William Martin 316th Comptroller Squadron commander

In today's fast paced society it is often said that the average person's expectation is to have information, goods, services and all the little important things in life when they want them, and normally that is now.

Of course, one must sometimes question whether it is reasonable to assume or maintain that expectation. Do we think of the things that must occur, the action and dedication necessary to feed our ever-increasing desires? I think the answer for many of us is no; we just expect it to be there. As this occurs, the standard becomes the expectation, however realistic or not. Standards in life often increase, and, as humanity evolves, we expect a higher standard of living, better technology, and we should expect a higher standard of civilized behavior. Again, though, how often do we stop and think about the commitment, effort and desire that it takes to provide that?

As Airmen in the U.S. Air Force we are committed to live our lives and perform our duties with three core values in our hearts and minds. The three core values of Integrity First, Service Before Self, Excellence in All We Do, are distinct, but can also be considered interdependent in their nature. Can you have integrity if you place personal desire above all else? Machiavellianism certainly shows you cannot; the end doesn't justify the means. Can you achieve excellence without integrity and personal sacrifice? I would say no excellence would be acheived. We should consider then, that as servicemembers we internalize integrity and self-sacrifice and use them as the driving force to pursue and achieve excellence.

In my 15-plus year career as an Air Force officer, I have tried to approach every job as a personal challenge to achieve excellence, which is measured in many ways. More often than not, it is not the major accomplishment that changes the world, but a completion of ordinary tasks that help us maintain our standards and expectations. Often though, it is that expectation that excellence will just happen that causes us to fall short. As the following quote from Orison Swett Marden illustrates, "It is just the little difference between the good and the best that makes the difference between the artist and the artisan. It is just the little touches after the average man would quit that makes the master's fame." How often have we made the conscious decision not to take that extra step or provide the proper diligence and have settled for good or less?

As servicemembers, we are constantly challenged to learn and perform new tasks, many beyond that which we are accustomed. Often we are expected to achieve excellence in these new tasks despite constraints in training, time and money. How can we not still do the mission, but achieve excellence? It is within the commitment, the focus and the desire to never settle for less and to ensure we don't take the seemingly minor details for granted. Never is the commitment to excellence more important than when you are dealing with the spending of the taxpayer's dollars. It is a legal and moral obligation to ensure the citizen's money is never wasted or abused.

As a comptroller in Iraq during 2008 and 2009, I was fortunate to have even greater trust placed in me to spend funds for the people of the United States as well as the Iraqi government. In such a case, the moral obligation and commitment to excellence must be greater as the opportunities for abuse and the price of failure are greater. In particular, I was entrusted with safeguarding priceless possessions of the former dictator's regime and ensuring their safe return to the Iraqi government and people. As often occurs during a deployment, this was not a responsibility and task I had performed before or was specifically trained for, but the values and attitudes instilled in me from acting as a custodian of government funds carried over.

Now as the Comptroller for the 316th Wing and a squadron commander, I take the same approach to our mission and seek to instill it in others. Never take your responsibilities lightly, be it in finance or whatever job you perform as part of the Joint Base Andrews team. There is no task too mundane, routine or unimportant. Excellence is not achieved by circumstance and should never be taken for granted. It is achieved by the diligence and devotion of the people who care enough to do more, to be the artisan more than the artist, and who seek little more reward than the pride and satisfaction gained from doing the best they possibly could.