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April Commander's Corner

  • Published
  • By Col. Rita Whitmire
  • 169th Mission Support Group

When you approach the end of a career that brought so much joy and fulfillment, the level of appreciation for the unequivocal impact it had on your life rises exponentially. I’m not riding off into the proverbial sunset just yet, though in the not-so-distant future, the sun will set on my career in the South Carolina Air National Guard. As this will likely be the last opportunity for me to contribute to this leadership perspective, I wanted to embark upon a topic that would not only be impactful but also relevant and timeless. A couple of ideas came to mind, and not so surprising, they all brought me back to our profession of arms.   


There is a bit of irony and as fate would have it, 125 of my colleagues and I were treated to a briefing by U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Kevin Basik, Ph.D., at the Air National Guard Readiness Center’s Mission Support Group Commanders Conference. Lt. Col. Basik enlightened us about the work of the Profession of Arms Center of Excellence, also known as PACE. What I did not know prior to this briefing, was that in 2015, then Chief of Staff of the Air Force General Mark Welch, directed the activation of the PACE. Its sole purpose is to infuse Air Force Core Values within the profession of arms, and is laser focused on developing Air Force personnel with a professionalism mindset, character, and core values required to succeed today and well into the future. The irony is that the focus of my leadership perspective was profession of arms, I come to a conference and learn of an entire “center” devoted to the same. I absorbed a number of pearls of wisdom from this briefing, garnered a few more nuggets while browsing through the website that highlights the work of the PACE, and injected them throughout this offering.


Understandably so, the profession of arms has been talked about and written about by hundreds of individuals before me. Without a doubt, the profession of arms is of a higher calling. Imagine the responsibility you shouldered when you freely raised your right hand, swore an oath of allegiance, and promised to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. With this single act, performed by less than one percent of the population of the United States, you’ve demonstrated your commitment to something much greater than yourself. A commitment that must be unbreakable if you are to serve with passion and conviction. Serving with the knowledge that death could be the outcome is profound.  Nowhere else in society is this obligation expected; nowhere! Do you know of another profession that not only ask, but expects its members to be willing to make the ultimate sacrifice?


In his farewell speech to West Point cadets in May 1962, General Douglas MacArthur said, “Yours is the profession of arms, the will to win, the sure knowledge that in war there is no substitute for victory, that if you lose, the nation will be destroyed, that the very obsession of your public service must be duty, honor, country. . . Our profession provides for the common defense and secures the blessings of liberty . . . Our profession is distinguished from others in society because of our expertise in the justified application of lethal military force and the willingness of those who serve to die for our nation.” During my first visit to the PACE website, I made note of a poem by Chris W. Fall that echoed much of the same.  The poem is entitled, American Airman Blue, and it reads:             


I raised my hand and said I do

                        Few knew what I’ve promised to


                        Sacrifices so others can live

                        A commitment of blood few give


                        Sleep well at night

                        I will keep you safe


                        A promise to the colors I’ve gave

                        I give my last full measures to you


                        For I am an American Airman blue


Our history, traditions, theories and practices are linked to doctrine that provides a common frame of reference, code of conduct, standardized practices and guiding principles that are our center of gravity. As a member of the profession of arms, you’re expected to live by guiding principles we know as core values. I’m overly confident that every airman can recite these core values when summoned – Integrity First, Service Before Self, and Excellence In All We Do. As is often emphasized, learning and understanding the core values is comparatively easy; the challenge is living them, practicing them and demonstrating them in your daily lives – “the art of leading oneself.” Conformity to a standard of right, or virtues are the traits that bring our core values to life.  


Integrity First helps to answer the question of who you are while you’re doing what you’re doing. Are you doing the right thing regardless of whether or not someone is watching?  Acts that demonstrate integrity reveal themselves in the form of honesty, courage, and accountability. 


Service Before Self doesn’t mean you’re not important – you are. You are asked to suspend your personal desires, when necessary, to accomplish the mission through the practice of duty, loyalty, and respect.


Contrary to what might be popular belief, Excellence In All We Do does not ask us to be perfect and to expect perfection from others. Rather, it directs us to be passionate about continuous growth and improvement by embracing the concepts of mission, discipline and teamwork. These core values are engrained in every airman during basic training and is reverberated throughout their career. Every new day is another chance to live them or not.  As important, and as was pointed out by Lt. Col. Basik during his briefing to the MSG commanders, the enablers that connect our core values are:  1) A commitment to specific instructional standards; 2) A personal degree of loyalty to shared objectives; and 3) A shared trust between members of the organization. Unfortunately, when there is a disconnect between our values and the mission, it manifests itself in behaviors such as low performance, mishaps, bad conduct, unprofessional relationships, toxic leadership, scandals, etc. In other words, all of the negativity that calls into question the professionalism and commitment of our profession of arms. 


I am proud to have the great honor to serve beside you. My life has been greatly enriched through the many wonderful experiences, remarkable and talented colleagues, and the enduring friendships. As well, the challenges provided valuable life lessons that aided in my growth as an airman, as a leader and as a person. Wearing the uniform for all that it represents changed my entire perspective and became a part of my DNA. It’s almost like a splinter in the brain - you can’t help but notice it’s there; it sticks with you – no pun intended. Captain Karen Dorman Kimmel expressed it in a way that resonated with me when she said, “Without a word, this uniform also whispers of freezing troops, injured bodies, and Americans left forever in foreign fields. It documents every serviceman’s courage, who by accepting this uniform, promises the one gift he truly has to give: his life. I wear my uniform for the heritage of sacrifice it represents and more. I wear my uniform with pride, for it represents the greatest nation of free people in the world.” 


Your work has purpose, is worthwhile and makes a difference. There are no small or insignificant jobs. Never underestimate the contributions you’ve made in the past, you currently make and the contributions you will make in the future. The global concerns are more off-beat and more unpredictable than ever; trust and believe that the threats are real.  Whether you realize it or not, you are a symbol of pride and a symbol of hope for millions of people. I remind each of you that as a member of this great profession of arms, your nation depends on you to remain engaged, adaptive, vigilant, resilient and professional.   


First, I ask each of you to be good stewards of the profession of arms. Don’t take it for granted, for what you do and what you say sends signals to everyone around you and represents all of us. Second, I encourage you to strive every day to be the best version of yourself. Keep your glass half full as every day is a new opportunity. Third, I challenge you to go to the PACE website at Please let me know what you think of this valuable resource. Lastly, the lessons from a tree that I shared with you in this same leadership perspective years ago are timeless. In closing, I will share these lessons with you again. These simple directions can be another compass to help you in your daily life. They are:


  • Enjoy the view

  • Stand tall and be proud

  • Be content with your natural beauty

  • Be flexible so you don’t break when a harsh wind blow

  • Grow where you’re planted

  • It’s okay to be a late bloomer

  • Avoid people who would like to cut you down

  • It’s important to have roots

  • Sometimes you have to shed your old bark in order to grow

  • Embrace the Sun!

  • Thrive even in the shade


Thank you for what you do! SCANG Airman for Life! Semper Primus! Always First!