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NEWS | April 21, 2014

Respect: An argument for an additional Air Force Core Value

By Col. Al Miller 437th Airlift Wing vice commander

Integrity First, Service Before Self, and Excellence in All We Do. These are the current Air Force Core Values which guide the actions of all Airmen. Officially adopted in May 1995, they have served the Air Force well as the foundation for decision making and mission success for nearly two decades. Those who have been in strategy sessions with me will confirm I am not a fan of changing strategic language. Consistency has its merits when it comes to things like our core values. I do, however, believe it is time to consider adopting a fourth core value for our Air Force: Respect.

Respect is a powerful and fungible word. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines respect as a noun: "a feeling or understanding that someone or something is important, serious, etc., and should be treated in an appropriate way." Webster also defines respect as a transitive verb: "to feel admiration for (someone or something): to regard (someone or something) as being worthy of admiration because of good qualities; to act in a way which shows that you are aware of (someone's rights, wishes, etc.); to treat or deal with (something that is good or valuable) in a proper way."

Everyone seeks respect for themselves -- some would say they have even witnessed people attempt to demand respect from others. Years ago, as a leader in a youth organization, I took part in a brainstorming session to establish rules for the group to adopt. After listing out numerous rules, such as not interrupting others, no teasing, being on time, etc., we gravitated to one simple rule: Respect. It was brilliant -- all the other rules could align to that one rule. Interrupting or teasing others is disrespectful. Being on time would show respect for the group and the meeting organizer. Using Respect, as the group's single rule, was a simple concept and made it easy to communicate and modify the behavior of the group. Today, Air Force leadership is focusing on the importance of treating every Airman with dignity and respect.

The Air Force acknowledges respect for diversity within its ranks is critical. April has been the Department of Defense's Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Airmen all over the world have been hearing about the importance of respect as we focus this month on combating this crime within our organization. In her testimony to the House Appropriations Subcommittee, Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James said: "We need dignity and respect for all - and that includes combating sexual harassment and assault."

Respect, however, has broader implications than just the sexual assault realm. Gen Mark Welsh III, Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force, said: "Everybody in our Air Force should feel respected; they should feel critically important to what we do, because they are. They should feel included in your organization and the mission. And we should all recognize that diversity is very clearly a strength of this Air Force and will take us to places that we could not have gotten to without it."

Diversity within the Air Force is obviously important, but it is understanding, respecting and leveraging diversity which propels us to even greater heights. It's time we overtly acknowledge the true importance we give respect.

There is value in adopting Respect as its own Air Force Core Value. There is no argument that respect could be understood as a subset of the established Air Force Core Values. Depending on the context, one can easily align respect under any or several of the existing core values. Likewise, attributes of the existing core values could nest under the Respect category. The true value of adding Respect to the core values is not these nuances. Rather it is overtly acknowledging the importance we place in respecting one another. If we really do put stock in the importance of Respect, we should consider elevating it to its proper status as a core value. Not doing so allows Airman to continue to rationalize disrespectful behavior -- a negative trend we have seen far too much of in our service.

I have no illusions the Air Force will change its core values -- and, on a certain level, I appreciate that. The next few years are going to be turbulent enough for our service without trying to disturb foundational characteristics, such as our core values. Even though the Air Force will likely not elevate Respect to a core value, we will surely discuss, promote and appreciate how important respect is to mission accomplishment. With this in mind, I know this Airman will consider Respect as an unwritten core value, and I hope you do the same.