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NEWS | Aug. 16, 2007

Unity of command still important principle

By Master Sgt. Justin Strain 14th Airlift Squadron acting first squadron

In today's Air Force, we hear our core values on a daily basis.

These words have been so ingrained that we can repeat them as a reflex. They are mighty words: "integrity first," "service before self," and "excellence in all we do." However, these aren't merely words; these are the standards we live by as professional Airmen.

These core values are an essential part of our profession of arms. However, I recall some military principles that have become less prominent. These military principles, to me as a military member, are equally important. One such principle is "unity of command." This principle has stuck with me throughout my Air Force career.

Unity of command takes several forms. Under the principles of war, unity of command means that all the forces fall under one responsible commander. It requires a single commander with the requisite authority to direct all forces in pursuit of a unified purpose. Simply put, it means one mission, one boss.

Another aspect of unity of command is issuing orders to subordinates as if the orders were our own. This is an important aspect of unity of command. Our life and work experiences shape how we think and act; therefore, we may not always agree completely with the decisions our superiors make. However, once a decision is made to proceed a certain way, we owe it to our superiors and the Air Force to follow the orders to the best of our ability.

Once a decision has been made, it can be detrimental to a unit if the NCOs and officers issuing the orders do not appear to give the orders their full support.

Here's another example of how this break in unity of command can affect a unit: A supervisor has a troop who is a good performer throughout the year, but has a major infraction that reflects very unfavorably. This infraction was so severe it warranted the commander to issue the individual a Letter of Reprimand or Article 15 and start an Unfavorable Information File.

Then when the individual's Enlisted Performance Report comes due, the easy way out is for the supervisor to tell the individual, "I think you deserve a five on your EPR, but the commander and first sergeant won't let me." The supervisor is undermining unity of command. It also manifests an "us versus them" mentality in the unit. The message is placing the blame on the commander instead of on the individual where it rightfully belongs.

The individual is responsible for his or her actions and the consequences those actions bring. The supervisor is trying to be a "good guy" and a buddy to his subordinate, but what his subordinate needs is a leader and a mentor. The commander and first sergeant are not responsible for the infraction the Airman committed, they are responsible for ensuring discipline within their unit is administered fairly and the integrity of the performance rating system is kept. What the supervisor should say is, "I would rate you a five, but when you received that LOR (or Aritcle 15), you made it impossible for me to rate you any higher than I did."

The supervisor is letting the individual know that ratings are earned, not given, and the individual is responsible for the consequences their actions bring. The supervisor is also keeping a very important military principle intact: unity of command.