JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO, RANOLPH-Texas-- The Enlisted Character Development Center, located within the Enlisted Heritage Museum at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, has now served the local Air Force community for three years.
Their mission is to preserve and honor the history and heritage of the enlisted force while educating current service members and the general public on their sacrifices to safeguard America. Through their work, they underscore the importance of foundational character traits such as courage, resilience, sacrifice and duty.
“The importance of the Enlisted Character Development Center lies in the fact that we don’t want to just continue developing only technically sound Airmen,” said Master Sgt. Jorge Cortijo, U.S. Air Force Airman Heritage Museum & Enlisted Character Development Center command military training instructor. “The focus is to create an Airman with the right qualities, with the right character traits who then becomes a specialized technician.”
The program’s creator, Gen. Robin Rand, former commander of Air Education and Training Command, understood that the path of character development for an enlisted member is entirely different from that of an officer and wanted to bridge the gap.
“The program is doing that today,” Cortijo said. “Working with entities like the Center of Character and Leader Development at the Air Force Academy, we’re starting to bridge the gap,” he said. “Now a young leader graduating from the Air Force Academy can meet a young enlisted leader and both can be speaking the same language when it comes to character development.”
Pride comes from the history and heritage that is shared among a group, Cortijo said.
"You see that a lot in sports, where somebody’s pride really has nothing to do with their membership to that team,” he said. “It has to do with how they feel connected with the past, with the previous wins, with the previous victories. That is an area that we believe is highly untapped because of the nature of what we do, which is mission first, learning how to do your job… but then we lose the essence of what Airmanship is.”
“Profiles in Leadership is an event that stands on its own, separate from the enlisted character development series,” Cortijo said. “The enlisted character development series is more focused on the audience of the enlisted members because these are stories shared by enlisted individuals or individuals that have been very involved in the enlisted community. Profiles in Leadership is open for all audiences, because the idea here is that anybody can benefit from the perspective of character of a high-level leader.”
During the latest Profiles in Leadership seminar, retired Adm. William McRaven, the guest speaker, said there really can’t be a great leader without great character.
“Those attributes of duty, honor, country, integrity… these are important to a good leader, and if you have those qualities, you will probably be a good leader,” he said.
Cortijo said he hopes everybody understands that every time one of these events is conducted, they can change the world.
“Some people may have a hard time relating to a speaker such as a top Navy SEAL or commander of special forces because they do not believe they can measure up to that person,” Cortijo said. “But once that individual starts speaking, you realize they’re a human being that went through similar struggles as the rest of us.”
“They have similar decisions to make as the rest of us and that somewhere in there, through the help of mentors, through the help of the community, through internal introspection they gained a sense of what they needed to do in order to change their own world and eventually the world around them,” he continued.
Individuals who have attended the seminars or have seen the seminars through the center’s YouTube channel have wanted to do everything from being involved from far away to bringing the program to their installations.
“We are not yet at a stage where we can deliver this internationally,” Cortijo said. “However, entities like the Profession of Arms Center of Excellence have partnered with us so that we can develop a curriculum together since we speak on the same areas when we’re talking about character development.”
Feedback about the program indicates it is useful and necessary.
“A lot of commanders say that is what has been missing,” Cortijo said. “But we’re still at a stage where we’re trying to look for the best way to say we’re going to weaponize character development.”
“I feel privileged about the fact I get to create and help the Air Force continue its mission of creating better Airmen, not just through tasks and technical savvy, but through the transformation of the individual,” Cortijo said.