An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Home : News : Commentaries : Display
NEWS | Jan. 29, 2013

The professional Airman: customs and courtesies when using information systems

By Tech Sgt. Brent Likes 27th Intelligence Squadron

Modern communication is quick and convenient and has dramatically altered the way the U.S. Air Force fights. The Air Force information systems provide each Airman with direct and immediate access to the world.

Using proprietary systems, seconds-old intelligence is delivered directly to the forces that need it and aircraft receive coordinate updates while in flight. Using common e-mail or web pages, directives and guidance are communicated to subordinates, and document files or detailed messages are sent to coworkers.

While all these information systems vitally enhance productivity by providing massive amounts of information to each Airman, they also allow each Airman to send information out to the world. The Air Force provides guidance on communication using information systems, while highlighting professional communication in relation to the Air Force Core Values. Today's professional Airman must be aware of the capabilities of these information systems and responsibilities while using them.

Air Force Handbook 33-337, The Tongue and Quill, Chapter 12, Electronic Communication, is an especially useful resource. All Airmen should review this section to ensure they are complying with the Air Force's expectations. Another useful guide is AFMAN 33-152, User Responsibilities and Guidance for Information Systems. Chapters three and four contain comprehensive lists of inappropriate personal uses of internet and telephone capabilities. For example, many people may not know that section of AFMAN 33-152 specifically prohibits slogans and quotes in signature blocks.

Airmen can use the Air Force Core Values to evaluate their professional communications before referencing guidance documents, such as AFMAN 33-152. The concepts of "Integrity First," "Service Before Self" and "Excellence In All We Do" have clear applications when we use information systems.

Consider integrity and the use of the internet at work: the Air Force allows several morale websites, including Facebook, YouTube and ESPN. Are you spending hours a day on them? Could you be pursuing online training, following career related news, or reading leadership key messages and policy changes instead?

How about Service Before Self? Do you place the Air Force first when submitting routine documents and performance reports? Do you take the time to research and evaluate these administrative processes week after week and make reports better, or do you just copy, paste and walk away?

What about exhibiting excellence in quick e-mails or message chats? Do you pay attention to the details of appropriate customs and courtesies, including proper forms of address and signature blocks in e-mails?

As professionals, we must be particularly aware of the long life and simple transport of the typed word. E-mails, documents and even chat logs remain available long after they are initially sent. As anyone who has clicked rapidly through the computer log-in notifications knows, the Air Force monitors everything we do on information systems.

To compound the danger of online communication further, digital information lasts so long that embarrassing or derogatory information can appear years after its first creation. Any e-mail, blog post, chat log or document saved that is unprofessional could result in official discipline, remedial training or embarrassing apologies, with resounding consequences to your unit's reputation and your personal career.

The only defense you have against these dangers is to be professional at all times. The professional Airman does not have to worry about embarrassment because reviewing their digital communications will only bring credit to themselves and the Air Force. Here are some key ideas when using digital communication:

· Are you using appropriate customs and courtesies? Are you submitting inquiries through the chain of command? Are you replying to only interested parties in your e-mails? Are your e-mails professionally formatted? Full terms of address, properly formatted documents, filled subject lines and attached signature blocks show quickly that you are a professional and expect to be treated as one.

· Consider if a face-to-face or phone conversation is more appropriate than an e-mail or chat message. Are you discussing something personal, airing grievances or telling a joke? Perhaps you would not like your private conversation to become public later.

· Consider emotions, tone and perception. Are you using phrases, inside jokes and cultural references that could be misinterpreted by someone who doesn't know you well? Your co-worker may understand your hilarious irony and sarcasm based on your personality, but will her supervisor? Some may suggest the use of "emoticons" to help with tone, but the abuse of a smiley face quickly becomes just as unprofessional as an ambiguous tone.

· Most importantly, have your wingman check your communication before you send it. Your wingman can check formats, give insight on tone, suggest additional or less information, do a spell check and back you up later if anyone comes with questions.

All Airmen are specifically charged to be professional. This responsibility for professionalism extends to all our communications. As Airmen, our e-mails, internet uploads, chat programs and documents all need to reflect our Core Values. Utilize the written Air Force guidance and your own trusted wingmen to ensure the professionalism of your communications. Consider carefully how long modern communication lasts, and how damaging or supportive it can be to your professional image and that of your unit. We all ultimately represent the Air Force - take pride in your professional communications and protect that good name.