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Commentary: Air Force Culture of Change

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Abbey Rieves
  • 17th Training Wing Public Affairs

Airmen know the standards, actions and share an understanding of clipping strings, standing at the position of attention and the word ‘tracking.’

Over the last 73 years, the Air Force developed shared understandings and behavior patterns, creating a culture of its own. 

The Air Force prides itself on a long cultural history of integrity, service, and excellence. But other age-old cultures can offer an inconvenience, such as the “hurry up and wait” motto. 

Since culture is a product of history, I believe it can be changed for a better future force. 

When I look at history, I see slow, yet constant changes. One example of slow change was the “Don’t ask, Don’t tell,” military culture. The concept was practiced for decades before it was written into law and then practiced for nearly twenty additional years before it was repealed in 2010.

Other Air Force wide examples of cultural changes happen progressively, such as our gender-neutral lyrical change to our service anthem. 

Additional continual changes to Air Force culture include innovation and modernization of our military structure and processes as outlined in the National Defense Strategy. 

But even these changes in the military happen over a period of time. When I first enlisted, I thought, “That’s just how the military is.” 

But why choose standard shipping when you can have an overnight delivery for free?

“Cultures can change rapidly,” Author John Omohundro states, in the book Thinking Like an Anthropologist: A Practical Introduction to Cultural Anthropology.

I believe that overnight cultural change can happen, even in the Air Force. 

Take the recent Department of Defense guidance allowing military members to wear cloth face masks in uniform, for example. The guidance was released April 7, on a Sunday afternoon. The next day, hundreds of military members on my joint-base wore handmade face masks while walking to work. 

This demonstrates Air Force culture can hurry up, without unnecessary waits. 

Maybe the first day the guidance was in effect, making masks and wearing them was exciting. But roles quickly reversed as the culture exponentially changed from a few people receiving longer-than-normal-looks for wearing masks to whoever wasn’t wearing a mask became the outlier. 

This new cultural norm was forged throughout the entire military so rapidly for health reasons during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Cultures are strengthened by values, or shared understandings of what is good and right to do and to be, as well as what is bad and wrong,” Omohundro reasons. “The values adhering to many of our common understandings compel us to do the right thing, culturally speaking.”

I noticed groups of military members are now compelled to physically distance themselves off the sidewalk when I take my son on stroller-runs around the base. Before this change in culture, a social distance when passing by on the sidewalk wasn’t extensively practiced. Though social distancing isn’t heavily enforced, allowing six feet for us to pass is the new, unspoken and right thing to do. 

When I experience these slight, yet powerful changes to the Air Force culture, I am encouraged. 

Now when I hear, “That’s just how the military is,” in terms of change, I know from experience, it's not always the case.

Our Air Force culture can change, and it can either change slowly, progressively or rapidly. The shipping speed is our choice. 

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