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How to see the big picture at work

  • Published
  • By Col. Rob Lowe
  • 375th Air Mobility Wing vice commander

Every day, Airmen of the Showcase Wing generate or enable airpower that has impact far beyond these gates. Some see this impact directly from a flight deck or while hot-pit refueling F-22s.  Perhaps many others wait to hear about it in the news or from a story by their commander. Some Airmen have a good idea of how their job contributes to the mission. Others may struggle to see the impact their job is having to defend our nation. If you find yourself in the latter group sometimes, please know this struggle isn’t necessary. I believe it's possible for all Airmen to see how their job impacts the mission by deliberately practicing integrity in their daily grind.

Practicing integrity goes beyond the well-known definition of "doing what is right when no one else is looking." It means embracing all other traits of integrity such as courage, honesty, responsibility, accountability, justice, openness, self-respect, and humility. Finally, deliberately practicing integrity must happen on two fronts: at work and at home. At work, this is called Sustain Mission Integrity.  At home, we must Champion Integrity in the Mission.

Sustain Mission Integrity

Sustaining Mission Integrity is the act of delivering an effective and capable weapon system, consistently. In this sense, a "weapon system" can be an aircraft or a firearm, a fuel truck or a fire truck, a dental instrument or an X-ray machine, a CAC ID workstation or a personnel database, a controller console or control tower communications, etc. 

Sustaining Mission Integrity is an action. It is steady and repeatable.  Mission integrity is achieved when the mission is successfully executed by the book and within acceptable levels of risk. A team sustains mission integrity when its members consistently trust one another and are adequately trained, equipped, and given the time required to perform the job.

Every Airman owns a critical role. Each individual job is part of a larger work that enables the Showcase Wing to Sustain Mission Integrity. Like fingers to a hand, and a hand to an arm, and an arm to the body, so is each Airmen to mission integrity. Nothing works as it’s supposed to if a member is missing or not performing.  Col. Lawrence “Rocky” Lane (a.k.a. RAVEN 01), the recent Airlift/Tanker Association Hall of Famer, put it best when he said “Remember it takes all of us as Airmen to hold the corners of the frame together if we want to see the big picture.” 

From the start to end of every duty day, Airmen must strive to understand how their job Sustains Mission Integrity. If it's hard to understand, chances are others don't understand it either. Ask a supervisor or commander to explain how a specific job contributes to mission integrity ... if you nor your commander can explain it, then it’s probably time to reassess that particular job to see if time can be better spent elsewhere. No matter how small it seems, the job of every Airman needs to contribute toward mission integrity and every Airman should understand how it does so.

Champion Integrity in the Mission

Can the mission succeed by cutting corners? Yes, but only until disaster strikes. Can training events, assessments, evaluations, metrics, presentation slides be finagled to seem like standards are met? Yes, but this is detrimental to competence, quality, and mission integrity. Could extra time be saved by overlooking safety notes, warnings and cautions? Yes, but at great cost to the mission, a career, or possibly a life. In our steady state mission here, there is no reason to take a risk that jeopardizes a life, limb, or the tax dollars of which we're entrusted to be good stewards. 

Take a moment to look closely at daily work habits in your section.  Make sure we aren't cutting corners ... despite best intentions. If we tolerate cheating or rule breaking on the small things at work, then it can point to integrity shortfalls that originate outside of work.

This is why the Air Force invests so much in resiliency training, Airmen and Family Readiness, suicide prevention, domestic violence prevention, and programs to help with work-life harmony. Collectively, these things help us Champion Integrity in the Mission. Championing Integrity in the Mission is the interventions Airmen must do daily to keep their moral compass caged to True North.  When we allow the compass to get a few degrees off of True North, the course - over time - will result in a vector far away from the original destination we thought we were pointed towards. This can happen to all of us.  When we allow small violations of integrity to exist in our personal life, it will eventually impair good judgment and make it harder to embrace other traits of integrity. Unfortunately, this all too often results in a terrible event happening which jeopardizes careers, healthy relationships, or physical well-being.

The good news is that, as Airmen, we belong to an Air Force that recognizes the danger of failing to Champion Integrity in the Mission. Air Force leaders understand that when this fails, it becomes impossible to Sustain Mission Integrity. We are equipped with some of the finest resources in the DoD to help us be the best spouse, parent, friend and Airman that we can be. Don't hesitate to use those resources.

Tip: Develop a 30-second elevator speech on how your role Sustains Mission Integrity. Be ready and willing to give that speech to anybody. Finally, be courageous enough to intervene if you suspect any failure to Champion Integrity in the Mission, whether personally or with one of your Wingmen.