I'm just a civilian

  • Published
  • By Al Strait
  • 21st Space Wing director of staff
Everyone has heard the statement, "I'm just an airman," or "I'm just a lieutenant." The other day I heard a civilian say, "What can I do? I'm just a civilian." As I thought of what I heard, it made me reflect on what it means to be "just a civilian." Granted, a civilian may not wear Air Force blue, but we are chartered to accomplish our assigned tasks to fulfill our missions, regardless of our rank or branch of service.

I asked Airman 1st Class Katie Lee from our office what it meant to her to be an airman. At first, she thought I was joking with her, but once I explained the phrase and how some may think it has a negative connotation, she gave it some thought and provided me her insight. Lee said even though she is new to the Air Force, she is a hard worker and takes great pride in the work she does for her unit and the Air Force. She learns as much as possible about her job and the military so she can be the best Airman she can and get the mission done. She also stated, as a new member to her organization, she can provide a new and different perspective to accomplishing our mission in a more efficient and effective manner. Finally, Lee said, as a first-term airman, she believes she can do the mission just as well as any other higher-ranking person, if given the correct guidance and tools. She never expects less of a workload because she is "just an airman." She will always set her standards high and hope her leaders will too.

Much of Katie's response applies directly to the civilian workforce. Civilians should also have a desire to learn all they can about our Air Force heritage, the culture, customs, courtesies, and the core values. Just like all Airmen, civilians are critical members of the Air Force team, and it is vital to do more than just know - they must act. Civilians are essential for continuity in almost any organization. With constant duty changes of military members, civilians provide a key component of continuity and communication during transitions. Civilians new to the work force or new to the base can provide fresh perspective - and everyone can offer innovative solutions.

Civilians at all levels must work hard and take pride in the work they do for their unit and our Air Force. They must know who they are and what is required of them to meet mission demands. They must know the basic Air Force mission and their specific mission. For some it may strictly be 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., but for many they understand what it takes to get the job done and will stick with it until the job is complete.

Another contribution civilians provide is mentoring. We can all learn from others, and no one should walk away from a mentoring opportunity. Regardless of whether we wear a uniform or not, we are all on the same Air Force team. Even though civilians may be at different levels of experience or time in service, there should be a sense of loyalty and purpose, both of which enhance mission accomplishment. Civilians should share their expertise and experience with their military counterparts - and vice versa for military personnel.

So, in going back to, "I'm just a civilian;" I don't buy it. The civilian workforce is just as much of a force multiplier as our military team. As a civilian, if you don't see yourself as part of a proud and cohesive team, then maybe you should do a reassessment of your day-to-day performance. The same standard applies across the total force, including our military members.

With constant cuts in manning and budget, we need everyone in the fight. In years past and in the years to come, our Air Force and our nation will continue to depend on civilians. I challenge all civilians to set their standards high and never expect less just because they are a civilian.