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NEWS | Nov. 4, 2015

Have We Become an Air Force of Distractions?

By Col. Scovill Currin 437 Operations Group commande

All of us had our own reason for joining the Air Force - maybe it was to escape a bad family situation, maybe it was for an education, maybe it was patriotism, perhaps a love of flying or travel, or maybe just an urge to be part of something greater than ourselves. Some of us may have even just stumbled into this business without any real forethought at all. Each of you has your own personal story and reason for serving, and after taking command of the greatest Operations Group in the Air Force three months ago, I've had the privilege of hearing many of those stories first-hand.

Despite our varied reasons for serving, I have a hunch that we all agree on one thing: Not one of us joined the Air Force to wrestle with DTS, frantically click through CBTs, stand tall for a waist measurement, attend extraneous training sessions, prepare for another DV visit, fight to get our GTC paid, argue over word choice and formatting on an EPR or OPR, or cobble together a ribbon chart that condenses our value as Airmen down to a series of colored blocks.

Don't misunderstand me. Some of the extra training events levied on us are vitally important. Take our sexual assault prevention training and resiliency programs as prime examples. We all want to be part of an organization where people feel safe, where we've methodically fostered an environment where predators cannot thrive. Those efforts are going to continue. We will also continue to seek ways to help our brothers and sisters in arms before they choose to hurt themselves. Nearly one hundred of our fellow Airmen have taken their own lives in 2015. That is simply a devastating and unacceptable statistic.

The problem, however, lies in how we view and value the other ancillary training events, CBTs, computer systems, and AFI-mandated programs that have drastically grown in both number and scope over the last decade. I sense an acute frustration among our Airmen that these secondary and tertiary events beyond our primary mission of flying, fighting and winning our nation's wars have received more attention and emphasis from leadership than our primary duties. In truth, most of these ancillary events are simply "noise and nothing more than the cost of doing business in a large, bureaucratic organization. We face real danger, however, if we begin to value and reward this "noise" over our primary mission and our Airmen's sacrifices in accomplishing that mission. In other words, we are in danger of becoming an Air Force of distractions.

If we care more about raising our PT score from an 89 to a 90 for our metrics, the currency of our information assurance CBT, or who volunteered to run the base chili cook-off rather than whether we can stabilize behind a tanker, load an airplane safely, generate a weather forecast, build an intel brief, inspect an oxygen mask or plan a multi-ship formation, then we've done a disservice to ourselves and our nation. And trust me; our Airmen will begin voting with their feet, if they haven't already.

My first order of business when taking command of the 437th Operations Group in July was simple: Establish a renewed focus on our primary mission, which ensures our Airmen understand the fantastic work they do, the way they hack the mission, is what we value, what we honor, what we truly care about. We won't disrespect their effort by focusing on and rewarding the wrong things.

Again, please don't misunderstand. We cannot start blowing off CBTs and skating out of training we don't deem worthy. We're going to continue to adhere to policy and standards, but we will also insist our Airmen's performance in their primary job is what matters most. We want to ensure the reasons we joined still matter, and when we look back on our time in the Air Force, feel like our work was important and that we were truly part of something special.

Since taking command, I have had the privilege of shaking hands with each of our Expeditionary Airlift Squadron deployers as they left the comforts of home and family to fight our nation's battles. As I looked each one of them in the eye, I was struck time and again by the solemn obligation we all share to ensure our Airmen return home safely to their family and friends. The only way to ensure that we fulfill that obligation is a renewed focus on what really matters and avoid becoming an Air Force of distractions.