Mission-ready has become mission-first at any cost

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Octavius J. Thompson
  • 71st Flying Training Wing Public Affairs

VANCE AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- During the Resilience Tactical Pause last month, I had the chance to reflect on resiliency and the state of today’s Air Force.

To me, it seems our status of always being ready turned into the mission coming first at any cost.

The mission coming first has become the driving force for the eight, 10 or 12-hour shifts we work because that’s what is needed to get the job done.

The emphasis on the mission, often at the expense of off-duty, personal time, seems rooted in the events of Sept. 11, 2001, the day our nation was attacked by a foreign enemy. Our military quickly transitioned from a peacetime military to one on the offensive.

Even though I have not been deployed or served in combat, I see the effects of 9/11. That attack 18 years ago has left our military on the edge and ready to deploy at a moment's notice.

I have witnessed the mission taking precedence over the mental, social and spiritual aspects of some Airmen as they battle their personal hardships to get the mission done. I believe Airmen want to speak up about their problems, but are accustomed to suppressing their feelings to complete the mission as their predecessors did 18 years ago.

For almost two decades the military could not afford to slow down or drop its guard in fear of what might come next.

As a result, Airmen are taught phrases to push through pain during basic training. Phrases like, “Keep it together,” “Stay the course,” “Suck it up,” or “Drive on.”

These phrases unconsciously lead to the mind set of ignoring how you feel even when it hurts. Airmen cannot show weakness or emotion because it tells the world that our forces are weak. At least, that is the mindset I have witnessed.

As far as the mission goes, these phrases fit the part because it means you are a team player, tough and resilient. This identity works for the military and the mission, but it does not work when Airmen take this mindset into their personal lives.

When it comes to expressing oneself, I have found that Airmen are not good at asking for help and have learned to hide their emotions and pain. Because we are all focused on getting the mission done, sometimes we forget to check on our wingman.

In no way is this because we do not care about the Airmen around us. It is the result of constantly focusing on the mission, afraid to fail, wanting to live up to leadership’s expectations.

For the Airman reading this, I challenge you, when you have a problem, put yourself first and ask for help. Take a moment to show your wingman you feel their suffering and that it is OK to acknowledge that pain.

In my short career the Air Force has taught me if you see a problem you fix a problem. I can't fix the current problem in the Air Force. But I think an honest dialogue between leadership and Airmen could be a good start toward a fix.

I am the product of the mission coming first for decades. I hope to be around as the focus shifts to the Airman becoming as important as the mission.