Service Before Self: A seasoned Airman's perspective

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Jerry Yarrington, 436th Aerial Port Squadron commander

DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. – Air Force Instruction 1-1, 1.3 states, “Service Before Self tells us that professional duties take precedence over personal desires.” Many Airmen mistakenly interpret this as “the Air Force always comes first in regards to time, etc.” I spent 15 years serving before I realized how to apply the core value of Service Before Self.

I missed countless school and sporting events prior to my enlightenment. My excuse was always the same: I had too much to do. Looking back at missed school events, ball games and date nights, I was wrong. The Air Force is demanding; however, we need Airmen to be as balanced as possible day to day.

For 15 years, I thought I was a committed Airman that put service before self, as I was expected to, when I missed events. I was not a great husband or father. Eventually, this approach to life and service hurts Airmen and our Air Force. Neglected personal lives can lead to broken personal lives. The turmoil that goes along with a broken personal life leads to distracted, less capable Airmen. This diminishes readiness.

What’s the answer? Day to day, live a more balanced life. I learned from observing my then squadron commander, Col. James Lovewell. Lovewell commanded the largest unit on Royal Air Force Mildenhall: the 478-person 100th Logistics Readiness Squadron; however, Col. Lovewell departed for recitals or parent-teacher meetings. He’d go home and spend quality time with his boys in the evening.

Col. Lovewell was building memories and being a great father and husband. Yet, he was also a well-respected, competent commander. I learned that I had been missing too much at home, and it would cost me if I didn’t change. Even if my family stayed together, I’d never get another chance to be a father.

I’ve adopted these thoughts on service that help me as an Airman, father and husband. First, I try not to miss the important things. I may not make it to every event, but if I can have a trusted subordinate head a meeting while I attend a holiday recital, I’m going to the recital. Second, I try to leave room for surge.

We don’t know when the next demanding crisis will arise and require us to work countless hours on end. So, don’t work countless hours every day. This way, when you surge, your family knows the Air Force needs you and that it’s temporary. You’ll be back to your top priority – your family – afterwards.

Third, I know the Air Force will ask us to put our families on the back burner for deployments, etc., and since I started living my life with more balance, my family and I are more than ready to put service before self when that call comes.

Don’t misunderstand what we expect of you when it comes to service. We need balanced Airmen. Our leaders want you to take care of yourselves and your families. It’s critical for readiness and service.