base information

Rules change as cutbacks roll through

MOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, Idaho -- Historically, people have entered the Air Force for multiple reasons. Whether it was for self-improvement or to simply provide for their family, one likely shared, significant appeal was the comforting notion of job security.

As a new Airman, I wandered out of basic training and technical school with a mind full of naïve assumptions. Similar to many Airmen before me, I made the mistake of assuming my job in the Air Force would come hand-in-hand with a steady paycheck and benefits as long as I managed to stay out of significant trouble and merely did my job. However, in my short time as an "operational" Airman, I have quickly realized that, unfortunately, today's Air Force is in no dire need of Airmen who do the bare minimum to get by.

"We're a different force than we were 10 years ago," said Erin C. Conaton, Undersecretary of the Air Force, in an article on nationaldefensemagazine.org.

Since 2004, active-duty personnel have shrunk from 360,000 to 332,000, said Conaton.

What does this consistent decrease in personnel mean? In simple terms, it means every Air Force employee now must exhibit more than just mediocrity, they must exceed the standards.

Upon stepping away from technical school, I was greeted with a minefield of Airmen dropping like flies all around me. These Airmen were not dropping from mortar fire or shrapnel, but rather a more discrete killer- ignorance. Ignorant to the blunt reality that there is zero room in today's Air Force for "just getting by."

When cutbacks roll through and Airmen are being "racked" and "stacked," who will stay in the Air Force? The Airman with a few minor discrepancies, or the Airman with a clean record? The one who simply shows up to work on time, or the one who goes above and beyond? The answer is simple. Never before, have Airmen needed to strive for perfection and stand out in positive ways more than we do currently.

As a young man with no more credentials than a high school diploma, financial security is much too important for me to risk. According to simplyhired.com, the average yearly salary for a fast food employee is about $29,000 per year, slightly less than an E-5 with at least four years time-in-service. However, these number differentials quickly evaporate when the priceless value of the laundry list of outstanding benefits offered to us in the Air Force is included. Besides the obvious benefits of medical, dental and housing, we all receive a certain amount of respect. Respect which any E-2 maintains and the common fast food employee can only dream of.

If we value the security of our jobs, it is essential we understand that simply doing our work and staying out of trouble is no longer going to put us above our peers. We must all hold ourselves to the highest standard day in and day out. Don't end up like all of the Airmen, who are losing their grasp on the harsh reality that mediocrity will not be tolerated in today's Air Force.