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Why heritage matters

375th Civil Engineer Squadron Graphic. (U.S. Air Force graphic by Senior Airman Shannon Moorehead)

375th Civil Engineer Squadron Graphic. (U.S. Air Force graphic by Senior Airman Shannon Moorehead)

SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. -- Readiness. Partnerships. Heritage. These form the foundation of the 375th Civil Engineer Squadron.

In a military unit, readiness seems like an obvious choice. Our ability to execute our mission—without fail—at home or deployed is our raison d'être.

Equally understandable is the importance we place on partnerships. As a Mission Support unit on an installation containing 35 mission partners and a working force of nearly 13,000 personnel, it is critical that we make a dedicated effort to foster the relationships required to ensure those missions are well-supported.

So why heritage?

Why should stories and traditions of Airmen and Engineers of the past be placed on a pedestal of equal importance? Simply put, we focus on our heritage because these traditions and cultural beliefs, developed and protected over time, are as important to the long-term success of our unit as our skills in engineering. Stories of our shared past provide an anchor in times of tribulation and remind us that we only need an opportunity to accomplish the impossible. Our customs and traditions build powerful bonds, which we and our families will need to draw upon when we are inevitably tested.

The standard counter-argument to this belief is: “Airmen and their families today are different; they don’t want or require as much unit involvement as they did years ago.”

I’ve heard some form of this excuse ever since my commissioning in 2003, usually wistfully expressed by a senior member reflecting on the tightly-knit squadrons of years past, with calendars full of unit events supported by engaged families. Unit members socialized after work building relationships, robust intramural leagues offered outlets for entertainment, and Officer and Enlisted Clubs had high membership numbers. Strong relationships were built.

Certainly, Air Force culture is not and should not be static. We have seen enormously beneficial societal changes since 1947 and it is only proper that our service adapts to reflect the country we support. We have made enormous strides in professionalizing our work environment, in diversity and inclusion, and in work-life balance while holding true to our core values of integrity, excellence, and selfless service. In many ways we are better today than at any point in our 74-year history, but even as we have adapted, we continue to face ever-evolving challenges to our culture that threaten the health and welfare of our members.

There are many roadblocks to unit cohesion. The growth of base-adjacent communities and the ease of online connectivity pull unit members away for their entertainment. The distancing imposed by the current pandemic risks further isolating us from our peers. The apathy of some leaders in teaching our newest members not only the “what” of our heritage but also the “why” diminishes its effect on the force.

So why heritage?

We focus on our heritage because despite the societal changes and environmental roadblocks, the demands on military members and their families today are strikingly similar to the demands faced by our predecessors. High operations tempo tests our endurance. Adversaries test our creativity. Deployments and geographical separation test the bonds of both our members and their families. Our bulwark against these demands are the stories we pass down and the cultural traditions we maintain.

We spend time together during military balls, at clubs playing Air Force-unique games like crud, and during a multitude of unit events to foster the familiarity, trust, and cohesiveness needed to empower our missions. We sponsor families, train Key Spouses, and offer spouse socials to ensure our families have established support networks when their service member deploys. We bring in speakers to remind ourselves we are part of a long line of Airmen pioneers that were just like us and accomplished incredible things.

When it comes to the continuation of our heritage and cultural traditions, I urge you to be proactive. It is ineffective leadership to simply tell our newest members to salute smartly and accept traditions with values they may not fully understand. We must share our heritage in such a way that the value is apparent. If you are in a position of leadership, you have a responsibility to share, teach, and maintain our cultural traditions. If you are a new Airman and have questions about our heritage, your responsibility is to seek understanding.

Our Air Force has a beautiful, powerful heritage, and our Airmen deserve the same tradition-rich Air Force of our predecessors.

Accept nothing less.