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NEWS | Oct. 24, 2008

These Airmen

By Paul J. Jones 1st Civil Engineer Squadron

While standing in line at the base exchange the other day, I heard this: 

"These Airman today!" (Or something along those lines.) 

Usually it's followed up with "When I was an Airman, we had more (insert any of the following: respect, ethics, skill) and then of course, the always humorous "They have it so much easier/better than we did."

I heard it 22 years ago when I was an Airman and numerous times throughout my career.

I'll admit - I thought about saying it a few times.

In the 1980s, I came into the Air Force looking to serve my country as my four older brothers did and also to get a job skill out of it. When I arrived at my first duty station, I had my hair parted in the middle, a tattoo and an earring.

According to my buck sergeant supervisor at the time, I was the complete "ruin" of the Air Force. 

"Just look at you," he would say, even though I was well within Air Force Instruction 35-10, which is now AFI 36-2903. 

Then I would get the "I could never afford a car when I was an Airman" speech.

"Ten of us shared one car at the barracks," he said. 

It didn't really phase me; I just went about my career, learned my job, did my duty, made some rank (bypassing my first supervisor) and made the Air Force my career until I retired in 2004.

I trained other Airmen throughout the years and dealt with the pop cultural changes, such as the Internet, heavy metal, grunge, hip hop, and piercings in more places than the ears. I saw many Airmen - ones who my fellow noncommissioned officers would write off - eventually blossom into great NCOs and supervisors.

So, have Airmen really changed? 

No. Society changes, pop culture changes and the Air Force, like America, is a melting pot. Airmen still have to conform to standards, they still have to go through basic and upgrade training.

Life is hard enough - learning a new job, deploying, going on a remote tour, and fighting in a war - without being tagged as the ruin of the Air Force and constantly being told how great you have it. 

Through the years, I made a commitment to look for these ruin-of-the-Air Force type Airmen and take them under my wing. That doesn't mean I treated the other so-called "good Airmen" differently; I just felt a connection to these individualists. 

One Airman in particular - who didn't fit the Air Force mold - moved up in rank, passed me by and is now a chief master sergeant. 

So much for the ruin of our force.

As a retiree and now a civil service employee, I get to see new Airmen every day. It's partly why I took the job here - I like to see what's going on with our young troops. I love seeing how the NCOs deal with the new type of Airmen. It's fun to see some of these NCOs scratch their heads while others just smile and deal with it as an NCO should.

Now, I have no illusion about how good it was in the past and how much better these Airmen have it now. 

Of course they have better facilities, educational opportunities and benefits - as they should. The Air Force needs to grow and change, so why shouldn't everyone - not just the new troops - benefit? 

I'm sure the base housing I had was better than my brother, and I'm sure the future housing, buildings and work areas will continue to improve - as they should.

"These Airmen are the same as you and I. They have wants and needs - just like we did. Some may be more educated than we were, and some may be less educated. 

We have progressed as an Air Force from Army Air Corps to today's elite force. Isn't it about time we dropped the tired "These Airmen" from our vocabulary? 

Besides, have you seen these NCOs these days? 

Just kidding.