Bloom Where You’re Planted

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Herb Keyser
  • 821st Air Base Group deputy commander
It happens all the time; we've all heard it. "This job won't get me promoted," or "If I don't get the stratification, I have no chance of promotion." I've heard it from both officers and enlisted. I've heard it from old and young. And now with the forced distribution of ratings in the new Enlisted Performance Report system, I hear it with a hint of panic in voices. And I'm here to tell you it just isn't true!

With the years of budget cuts, manning scrubs and force reductions, there are no unimportant jobs left in our Air Force (if there ever was). Everyone has their role to fill in making sure the Air Force is ready to Fly, Fight, and Win our Nation's conflicts. This happens for one very basic reason...we are the best at what we do. We are not Soldiers. We are not Sailors. We are not Marines. We are Airmen. While there might be overlap with duties that our sister Services perform, our duties and our focus are uniquely that of Airmen. So with that said, there are no jobs in the Air Force where you can't make a difference to the mission and your fellow Airmen.

So how do I answer Airmen's concerns that the job they're in won't get them promoted? I tell them "Bloom where you're planted." (Truth in advertising ... I stole this little bit of advice from a former Group commander of mine.) Whatever the task you're given, wherever you're assigned, whatever the duty description of your position, do your best. Conversely, if you have the most promotable job in the world, a lackluster (or dare I say, bad) performance in that position will lead to you being disappointed at performance report and promotion time.

Our Core Values provide the framework for how we conduct ourselves as Airmen - integrity, service, excellence. We all believe that we're good at our jobs, good leaders, and deserve to be stratted at or near the top of the heap. However, everyone is not "#1." We need to be honest with ourselves about how we stack up against our fellow Airmen. We need to have the integrity to look at ourselves in the mirror and fairly evaluate our strengths and weaknesses. In this way we won't be shocked or overly disappointed when our supervisors have to tell us that we are "center of mass" (as the Army calls it) rather than in the top 10%. During our Airmen Comprehensive Assessment or other feedback sessions, our supervisors need to practice integrity and not pencil-whip it, but give you the honest feedback you deserve.

You don't have to be in the Air Force long to see who is highly regarded in the Squadron and around base. They seem to be everywhere; involved in major Squadron projects, working in private organizations, volunteering to help our Air Force family at every turn and providing consistently outstanding results. These are obvious examples of service, but they're not the only ones. Quietly staying a few minutes late to finish up your part of a project so your boss can meet a suspense. Taking time in the evening to help your kid learn fractions. Proofreading your spouse's college homework assignment to help improve the grade. All of these are examples of service. And all of this reflects in your professionalism and how others view you.

Excellence in all we do is pretty self-explanatory in the context of "bloom where you're planted." Give your best effort on everything you touch, regardless of the size of the project. It doesn't matter if you're helping a brand new Airman fill out his first-ever travel voucher or organizing a General Officer meeting, you should strive for the same level of excellence completing any duty.

And this applies even today with the advent of the new EPR system bringing forced distribution of ratings and stratifications. You have to bloom where you're planted. Take Technical Sergeant promotions. In 2015, the Air Force selected an average of 22.4% of eligible Technical Sergeants for promotion to Master Sergeant. Starting this year for EPRs, we will only allow 5% to get Must Promote (MP), and another 10% to get Promote Now (PN). Now assuming that everyone who earned an MP or PN will do the appropriate amount of studying, there remains promotion potential for over 7% of the those earning a Promote on their EPR. So even if your performance does not rate an MP, there is still a shot at promotion, if you decide to bloom where you're planted.