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NEWS | May 29, 2009

Back to Basics

By Lt. Col. Michael Saunders 316th Civil Engineer Squadron commander

Earlier this week I had the opportunity to greet Vice President Joe Biden as he departed Andrews on his way to deliver the commencement address at the U.S. Air Force Academy. The brief interaction with our Nation's second in command was not only an honor, but one of the unique aspects of serving as a squadron commander at Andrews. Not surprisingly, as I completed my duties and departed the passenger terminal, I began to reflect on my own time at the Academy and past 19 years since I graduated. I realized that I have been truly blessed with great opportunities along the way, including my current position as commander of the 316th Civil Engineer Squadron. To command an organization as outstanding and motivated as this one has been especially rewarding. What's more, the squadron has an undeniable role in the effort of transforming this base from a typical base to a premiere installation befitting its presidential support role in the National Capital Region.

However, not everything has been as positive as the overall potential and impact of my unit. Since my arrival, I have been exposed to several discipline issues that are an inseparable part of the duties of command. In almost all of these cases, I find that there is a pattern of problems that precede my involvement at the squadron commander level.

These problems are often characterized by a series of infractions involving some of our basic standards of conduct. As a commander, I have the responsibility to enforce these standards. However, as military members, we all have a responsibility to live up to those standards. This doesn't have to be a difficult task; in fact, it can be quite easy, and I would venture to say that we all found a way to conform to the rigors of a military lifestyle at some point very early in our careers.

Regardless of whether you have just a few months of service or 20-plus years, I challenge you to recall your experience at Basic Military Training. If you're anything like me, you may recall having a bit of difficulty initially. I found myself and the others struggling to adjust to life at the Air Force Academy and working hard to learn the standards of conduct for our military. Things like wearing the uniform properly, saluting, and sometimes even just waking up and reporting to duty on time seemed difficult, but then something amazing happened: after a few weeks and a lot of repetition, those standards became easier to achieve.

Eventually, they became second nature, and by the time we all graduated basic training, they were so engrained that we didn't even question their merit - we just accepted the basic standards as a crucial part of our military culture.

For some of us though, that acceptance was short lived. It was replaced upon arrival at our first duty station and upon meeting someone that had forgotten the importance of military standards. Bad habits can rub off, and some of us fell into the trap of questioning the merit of our standards, or worse yet, simply thinking that they don't apply to us. Maybe we even found ourselves in the scenario of graduated punishment and commander interaction that I described above.

Fortunately, it doesn't have to be that way. Our Air Force standards are as easy to achieve and maintain today as they were when we first entered basic training. We simply need to adopt a "Back to Basics" mind set. With that mindset, we'll find it easy to pay respect to the flag during reveille and retreat, stand up when an officer enters a room, say "yes sir" or "yes ma'am," arrive at work on time, refrain from underage drinking, and/or maintain any other similar standard.

In short, we each need to repeatedly and personally uphold Air Force standards and correct infractions whenever we encounter them. By accepting our military standards for what they are - a basic set of principles that distinguish us as a military - we lead by example and make it easier for those that follow us to do the same.