It's not a job -- it's a profession

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Michael Drost
  • 71st Operations Support Squadron commander

VANCE AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- I frequently take anonymous questions from those in my squadron to encourage Airmen to be as open as possible with me. Not every Airman feels comfortable addressing the commander in person.

I always advertise and encourage feedback. Sometimes my most honest queries come from unknown sources.

One such query was posed during a mentoring session with our squadron's E-3s and E-4s when discussing promotions. "What do you say to people who don't care or don't want to promote?"

I assume the words in this question were carefully chosen. Even still, they can be interpreted several ways.

The question may indicate the person does not care about his work, or does not care about promoting. It might be from an ascending squadron leader who wants to help motivate a junior Ghostrider.

The questioner may be a self-motivated individual trying their absolute best, and in that personal pursuit of complete job knowledge they are not bothered if they are not recognized in the form of a promotion.

In my opinion, that is perfectly acceptable. I have confidence in our leadership to promote people with strong work ethics who don't necessarily see promotion as their main goal.

I have told many Airmen that I do not make decisions for the squadron based on how best I can position myself for promotion. I am proud of the rank I obtained, and if I retire an O-5, I would not feel slighted. Promotion is not my motivation for completing a task to the best of my ability.

Another possibility is our anonymous Airman might not actually care about his work, is passing time until the current enlistment is up, doesn't want the responsibilities of the next rank, or doesn't want to put in the effort required to get promoted.

To this Airman I say, "This isn't a job, it's a profession."

A job is a specific task with a defined beginning and a defined end. A profession is part of you - it helps define who you are. It is personal and your unique individualism contributes to it.

As military professionals, we are given jobs to do on a daily basis. There are many tasks required to get the Wing mission accomplished. But merely doing those tasks does not make you a professional and it does not give you a profession.

The Air Force is in the business of growing leaders in both our enlisted ranks and within our officer corps. If the Air Force was concerned merely about getting a particular task done, we would be sacrificing our future for the immediate need of the present.

For example, in our Radar Approach Control the task could be to get the most aircraft safely airborne and landed in a single day to meet timeline requirements. This requires a team of individuals, expertly trained, focused on a common objective, working in unison, executing a task for which they are uniquely qualified to accomplish.

While important on the micro level, this task of meeting timeline requirements is not what the Air Force ultimately needs. Our Air Force ultimately needs Airmen who sign up to grow within the ranks.

Airmen who not only do any task assigned, but also to be the next Airmen in line to lead those under them. In this constant quest for leaders, we will pull from those who are technical experts in their field and improve their core competencies.

As importantly, we will develop their ability to lead the next generation of Airmen. When we promote individuals, it is partly based on their past performance. But it is largely based on their ability to succeed in the future.

I understand the need for individuals to complete tasks on a daily basis. What the Air Force needs you to do is to take that task and make it a part of who you are. Widen your aperture to more than just a particular task or job and prove yourself deserving of more responsibility.

To those merely wanting a job, the Air Force is not the right place. Sure, we will still require you to do the tasks assigned while you are employed, but we are in the business of making military professionals.

Those not wanting to promote must understand that they will be replaced by a new crop of eager Airmen who want more than a job.

I would hope that as I shake your hand when you leave the service, and thank you for time served, you understand that in the civilian world those with jobs are just as replaceable.

A job is a task, and to an employer you are a means to an end. Once that job can be done more cheaply, quickly or precisely, you will be replaced.

A profession is more than a job. Make your military career a part of what defines you and you will achieve professional success.