Discipline: the Ten-Letter Word

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sergeant Steve Cenov
  • 8th Air Force

Discipline is the 10-letter word that is the basis of the United States Air Force.

General Bernard Rogers, in 1977, stated, "The problem is not one of devising and posting new rules; the challenge is following the ones we have." There is no silver bullet. It takes every person in the chain of command, from the first-line supervisor to the general officer, to know and enforce standards constantly and consistently. You must expect excellence to get excellence!

Basic Military Training, United States Air Force Academy, Officer Training School, Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps all produce great Airmen. They provide us with a solid foundation for service to our great nation. They taught us the difference between right and wrong, moral, and immoral, and legal and illegal. They taught us and held us to high standards. I can recall at the very start of my military journey, when I went through training, the units with clear standards and discipline to meet those standards are the ones that performed well. On the other hand, units that lack standards and discipline were only reactive to situations.

Examples of standards and discipline are more simple and more straightforward than you might think; always wearing eye protection during operations or carrying your rifle at the "READY" position over your back, for instance, demonstrate standards and discipline. They might seem trivial, but they are the difference between average and excellence, and with the nature of the military, the difference between winning and losing.

What happens after our Airmen leave those environments?

Why do we look the other way when we see someone not doing what is right or course correct when someone isn't performing to our expectations?

"You deserve what you tolerate." I regret I can't tell you the origin of this quote, however, the origin is not important; what is important is that this quote embodies the Air Force's Core Value of "Excellence in All We Do". As the world's premier Air Force, we simply cannot afford to tolerate substandard actions or behaviors regardless of their perceived superficiality. Our profession of arms demands we continually strive for perfection. After all, if you hold yourself and those around you to the highest standards, there is no need to tolerate anything less.

Correcting, holding Airmen accountable in our formation that are not performing or failing to uphold standards is everyone's responsibility. I get it, some Airmen are concerned about being perceived as the bad guy/gal and some just willingly pass the buck. Some believe it's not their job, while others simply don't like confrontation and avoid it at all costs.

The problem with all these approaches is that the action or behavior never gets addressed and failing to address it, in the end, is the same as condoning it. As an Airman, whether you are the subordinate, co-worker, or supervisor, you do not have the option of looking the other way; it's your duty to act. This, however, does not have to be a life-altering event for either party.  A timely "you need a haircut" is usually more than sufficient to get the desired result from someone who is looking a little shaggy around the ears. You can also use a similar low-key approach to address an unkempt uniform. As trivial as these two examples may seem, they illustrate that all standards within your realm must be upheld. And if you address the issue early on, you can prevent it from becoming a bigger problem down the road.

We are what we repeatedly do.

Excellence then is not an act but a habit, so if we repeatedly practice high standards and discipline, it is the creation of those habits that enable us to defeat a determined and audacious enemy. Each of us has a personal choice to make every day. We can let our guard down or we can guard our Air Force by keeping its integrity intact and committed to excellence. You'll be better for it; your Airmen will be better for it and the Air Force will be better for it and it's the Striker Way.