Joint Base Charleston



By Chief Master Sgt. Sean Hughes | 437th Airlift Wing command chief | August 28, 2014

Why is the favorite word of every child. When a young child asks why, it's curious, it's genuine and it's an innocent honest question.

Mommy, why is the grass green?

Mommy, why do apples grow on trees?

Daddy, why does that dog sniff that other dog's butt?

Funny how dads always get the really tough questions. What is also funny is at some point as we grow older we quit asking why in the voice of a child. Why gets edgy and it gets brazen ... it cut like a razor and the blade is attitude. So what happened? Is that the point we lost our innocence ... when we started to see the world through cynical lenses?

I believe Socrates hit the nail square on the head when he said, "An honest man is always a child." So as an honest man I simply ask, why? Why maybe a little too vague so let me give you two possible answers:

Option 1: Why what?
Or option 2: freaking magic.

While "freaking magic" is my absolute favorite answer to difficult or vague questions and one I use every day with my kids, it is a dodge, so let's run with why what? I will be a little more specific ... why is education important?

When I ask this question I usually hear the usual, "college is pathway to a better life, to a good job, to get promoted, to be competitive in the job market and or to make more money." Yeah, yeah, yeah, I got all those ... and I don't mean that in a derogatory sense.
College is a means to an ends and many of those reasons are the end result of college.

But, what if I love my job as a crew chief or med tech? What if I don't care about getting promoted or am content with how much money I make? Why should I continue to pursue education?

I have been asking this question for almost 30 years. After high school I pretended to go to college for three years until one day I got a letter from the Dean saying if I wanted to continue to donate to his institution, I needed to meet with him and explain why he should keep taking my money. That's not exactly what the letter said; it was more along the lines of my substandard academic performance and attendance record did not meet the schools high expectations of academic excellence, yadda, yadda, yadda. Well, I never met with the Dean ... I turned to the Air Force. I thought I would never suffer thru another college class again. I even turned down enrollment in the GI Bill while at basic training.

Fortunately, when I was as staff sergeant, I met Chief Master Sgt. John Randall and he lit a fire under my hind parts in a way that only a Chief can. At the same time the AF wrote enlisted off-duty education expectations into the PFE (the predecessor to the PDG - AF Pamphlet 36-2241) and the little brown book (AFI 36-2618 "The Enlisted Force Structure").

Since that point, I have taken plenty of college courses and have a ridiculous number of credit hours with a couple pieces of paper to prove it. This didn't mean I generically agreed with Air Force guidance. All it really proved is that I am a pretty good Airman and can follow orders. Well, after asking why for 30 years, 27 wearing an Air Force uniform, I believe I have found the answer to the question why.

Aristotle said, "The mark of an educated mind is to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it."

Education give us the opportunity to climb inside somebody else's brain, to root around a little, try on different thoughts and ideas, and if they fit, keep them. If they don't fit, leave them for the next person ... at a minimum, education allows us to entertain an idea before we dismiss it. Through the process of introducing ourselves to new ideas, challenging old ideas, and contemplating the realm of possibility, chances are pretty good we will walk away with something new ... we will broaden our horizons.

There are many ways to receive a world class education. In addition to taking classes, you can read books, take adult learning courses, read professional journals, attend seminars and/or travel to different places and learn about the local customs and history. At the end of the day, I don't care if you walk away with a 4.0 and I don't care if you ever earn a piece of paper ... I just want you to learn ... to be smarter today than you were yesterday.


I believe Sir William Francis Butler said it perfectly when he said, "The nation that makes a great distinction between its scholars and its warriors will have its thinking done by cowards and its fighting done by fools." Let me say that again a little slower ... "The nation that makes a great distinction between its scholars and its warriors will have its thinking done by cowards and its fighting done by fools."

Airmen are deployed all over the world in harm's way. Our mission, Fly, Fight, and Win, is a double edged sword that swings mercilessly in both directions. What we do is both highly technical and exceptionally dangerous. We engage in a daily high wire routine that demands exceptional intelligence, skill and courage from every Airman.

Why is education important? We have room for neither cowards nor fools in the Air Force. Socrates also said "I am the wisest man alive, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing."

If we (you and I) ask the question why, to learn all the things we do not know, honestly, just like a child, I am absolutely certain we will be smarter tomorrow than we are today. We will engage our brains to tackle complex problems long before we engage our brawn. When called upon, we (the military) will find the smartest and the safest possible way to execute our mission. We will avoid non-hostile casualties and we will bring home fewer flag draped coffins ... we will preserve more lives than we take ... and that my friends, is my answer to the question why.

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