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NEWS | May 3, 2017

The importance of recognizing superior performers

By Air Force Maj. Hamilton Underwood, commander 4th Combat Camera Squadron

Recognition is a fundamental human need. Therefore, recognizing Airmen is a fundamental responsibility of leadership because taking care of Airmen is a leader’s priority. As the adage goes, if a leader takes care of the people, the people will take care of the mission. 

Recognition in the Air Force can be both formal and informal. Medals are an important way to formally recognize Airmen and there are numerous medals and ribbons to be earned during their careers. Achievement, commendation and meritorious service are the most commonly given medals and Airmen are eligible, grade dependent, to receive such an award every three years under the auspices of extended tour. These medals are submitted and awarded by an Airman’s home unit.  Ideally, eligible Airmen should receive a medal every three years. 

Taking into account operations tempo, this ideal can be difficult to meet. Other award opportunities include quarterly awards programs and yearly external awards programs. These vital programs provide deserved recognition and as a byproduct provide an excellent boost to unit morale. All of these avenues of formal recognition should be pursued and every squadron needs a point of contact to vigorously monitor these opportunities.

However, the submission processes can be tedious, and time-consuming. The lag time between submission and delivery in most formal recognition opportunities creates the perfect space for the immediacy of informal recognition.  Recognition for a job well done at a commander’s call is one method and being coined is always appreciated. But some squadron commanders have introduced peer-to-peer recognition programs called on-the-spot (OTS) awards.

In this informal program, anyone in the unit can present anyone one else with an OTS award. The presentation is done at commander’s call. Usually the Airman who submitted the OTS award reads what is written on the certificate and presents the award. It’s best to produce the certificate at the squadron level, customized with the unit and wing patch.

The OTS award has several advantages. It’s immediate. Something that happened on the Unit Training Assembly (UTA) or during temporary duty (TDY) is immediately captured and recognized rather than being lost in the tumult. Often an accomplishment being recognized is unknown to squadron leadership because it was likely something happening behind the scenes.

The OTS award provides leadership a unique perspective into their unit.  Many times those recognized are the quiet performers quintessential to every squadron who can be easily overlooked.  If a quiet performer consistently is recognized by their peers, it provides insight into who the most effective leaders really are.  From a practical stand point, OTS awards provide Airman and their supervisors with excellent material for feedback sessions and in writing evaluations. Lastly, OTS awards help create an environment in which Airmen feel important and appreciated. Remember, when you take care of Airmen, they take care of the mission.