The “PROPER” Airman

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Reny Nunag
  • 821st Air Base Group

It is always a welcome sight to see our weekly rotator arrive. It means we have new Airmen ready to work on the mission. It also signifies the end of many Airmen’s tours at Thule Air Base, Greenland, the Department of Defense’s northernmost base and home of the 821st Air Base Group, 12th Space Warning Squadron and 23rd Operations Squadron, Detachment 1. Here at Thule, much like any other base in the U.S. or overseas, we strive to start our Airmen on the right foot. We do this with our weekly “Right Start” program which we call “Arctic Start.” During Arctic Start, I get to spend 15 minutes with newcomers to tell them what this remote base has to offer, and then I talk to them about having goals. I encourage Airmen to set professional and personal goals, but hidden in these two words is a message. You see when you take the first three letters from these two powerful words, “PRO” in professional and “PER” in personal, you get the word PROPER. In regards to setting goals, what does that look like? What does it mean to be a PROPER Airman?

Let’s dive in shall we? Becoming a professional Airman doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time. You learn from your mistakes, and from mentors and peers. It takes positivity, persistence and keeping your eyes on your future. Being a professional Airman is ingrained in our core values: we maintain integrity, practice service before self and strive to be excellent. Being excellent means having the right attitude as you face your tasks, tackling your professional military education as soon as you can and getting out of your comfort zone by trying something new.

A professional Airman starts every day by being ready. Wake up in the morning and be ready to tackle the day’s tasks, make your bed! Have a positive attitude, because positivity breeds positivity. Treat people with respect. Most importantly, be the best in your craft. Strive to be the subject matter expert and give any task you are given your full attention. If we cannot be the best, then we must learn from our shortcomings, because let’s face it, we are not perfect.

Setting professional goals can be a daunting task at times, but some of us have sat through motivational courses where the lecturer told us to write down short- and long-term goals; think about your goals, and keep them in mind. What comes to my mind is PME. As a young Airman getting ready to step into bigger roles in the next level of leadership, I made it my priority to knock out my PMEs as soon as I was eligible. PME gives you the basic tools needed to lead the next generation of Airmen, but it is up to you to expand that knowledge and personalize it to your leadership style. To me, PME is an opportunity to grow as a leader and as a noncommissioned officer, as well as to network with other NCOs. Every time I attended PME, I felt reinvigorated and had a sense of re-bluing.

The last professional goal I want to discuss is stepping out of your comfort zone. As a product of the pre-developmental special duty process, I had the opportunity to try something I had always wanted to do. In my 15th year in the Air Force, I took a leap of faith: I transitioned into the first sergeant world. I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to continue that adventure for 9 1/2 years. I would say that it is the most rewarding job I have ever held in the Air Force. There is no better feeling than helping Airmen in need and seeing them through their struggles and successes. Being a first sergeant allowed me a bird’s-eye view of how the Air Force works, to see the inner workings of a base, whether the mission is flying aircraft or fixing them, supporting the operators and maintainers or even keeping personnel healthy so they can do what they do best and keep the mission going.

Being a first sergeant exposed me to opportunities I wouldn’t normally had. You don’t have to take the same route I took, but don’t run away from opportunities. Try something new. You might end up liking the adventure. Get in, get the knowledge, expand your horizons and share what you have learned. As you prepare yourself for the hustle and bustle of your daily routine, having the right attitude and thinking about getting out of your comfort zone will get you far.

Onto the last three letters of the word PROPER: setting your personal goals. Many of us have different personal goals. My personal goals are being financially savvy, expanding my knowledge by going to school and always keeping my family in mind.

Too often, I am asked, “If I could change anything throughout my career, what would I change?” My answer to that is be savvier with my finances and be more knowledgeable about investing. There are so many untapped resources in the Air Force. At the front of my mind is the Airman and Family Readiness Center. As a young Airman, I didn’t know about all the A&FRC offers, so naturally, I didn’t tap into this resource. I often imagined what it would be like to learn about investing at an early age. In particular, I wish I had invested in a Thrift Savings Plan during its inception in 2001, versus starting in 2008. I can tell you, I would be in a much better place with my finances today.

Another personal goal you need to keep in mind is school. There are not many institutions that give you free tuition, yet when I ask Airmen at Thule if they are taking classes, to my surprise, many times the answer is no. The reason always reverts back to the communications issue. I am a firm believer that if you want it bad enough, you will find a way to achieve it. Yes, the connectivity at Thule may be degraded, but that does not mean education is out of the question. No matter what the challenges are, find ways to get schooling done. Even at a place like Thule where you rely on satellite communications, if you are patient and persistent enough, you can get it done.

The last thing I want to talk about, which is near and dear to me, is family. Just recently, I had an opportunity to sit in at a speed mentoring session at the community center. One of the Airmen at my table asked, “How do you find the right mix of work/life balance?” My honest answer to this question is communication. I am fortunate enough to have a spouse who is prior military and has a very good understanding of military life. I think communication is key, especially if you add children into the equation. Be honest with your loved ones about your professional goals and what you’ll need to do to attain them. As I mentioned earlier, I was a previous graduate of the first sergeant career field, and to this day I don’t know the exact recipe for how I survived 9 ½ years of constantly being on the go. My family always understood because I kept them in the loop. It takes effort to communicate after a 12-hour day and a 4 a.m. security forces call, but it is necessary.

The way I navigated through the duties of a first sergeant was this: I may have been away from home from time to time, but when I was home, 100% of my time was devoted to my family. You really have to cherish every moment you have with each other. Many times, I employed my family’s assistance. For instance, if I had events going on with the squadron, my family was usually by my side helping. I always made attempts to incorporate them in squadron events, and usually, they helped. It made them feel included, valued and needed. It was another opportunity to spend time with them, even though it may not have been in the comfort of our home; sometimes you have to be creative in your plans. At the end of the day, I was fulfilling both my immediate family and Air Force family’s needs.

Being a PROPER Airman means you are working on a better version of yourself, both professionally and personally. Each of us have different goals, but by constantly striving to be better every day, hopefully being a PROPER Airman makes you a better Airman, leader and, most of all, a better human being. Always strive to be better than yesterday — strive to be a PROPER Airman.