What We Hold Sacred Part 2

By BGen Andrea D. Tullos


It’s been nearly two years since I wrote about “What We Hold Sacred” as Defenders. Since that time we’ve been busy reconstituting our forces, reflecting on what the new National Defense Strategy demands of us, and reconnecting with our heritage. We’ve had tremendous support from our Air Force leadership who inspire us every day to enhance our capabilities as leaders of the Air Force’s ground combat forces and who have invested in getting us more ready and lethal in ways I’ve not previously experienced in my time in uniform. We’re three years into our effort to reset our foundation. Recently, Chief Hartz and I got to bring together over 350 Defenders – Squadron Commanders, Chiefs, and Colonels – at our Worldwide Symposium to take stock of where we are, discuss what’s coming next, and revisit what we hold sacred in light of what we’ve learned about ourselves over the past few years. AFSFA has been a partner with us throughout the journey, helping us bring back Defender Challenge, connecting us with our veterans and retirees who shared lessons learned on the 50th anniversary of the Tet Offensive, and tapping your feet and your keyboards to share your enthusiasm for our new hip-hop video and song “Get in Step.” I want to share some insights into the now expanded list, level the understanding of “What We Hold Sacred,” and ask that you continue to debate who we are, what makes us who we are, and what we must never let go.

If you refer back to that August 2017 article, you will see that we presented attributes of our defense forces that today’s Defenders and Air Police of 1947 would recognize – guardmount, small arms expertise, day-night/all-weather force, dress and appearance, and post briefings. We had some lively debates about why this is true, what this means for us day-to-day, and whether much has changed over the decades. We all agreed that technology has evolved, but the Defender employing all that technology has amazingly consistent DNA. The conversation really turned to what we wanted to bring into the discussion; there is more to be held sacred.

The first and foremost addition to the discussion is the beret. Seems so obvious. We identify each other and ourselves by the blue beret. We earn it, are privileged to wear it, and when someone discredits it, we take it away. We wear it with pride and teaching a new Defender the process of shaping, shaving, sculpting, and perfecting the wear is a ritual we embrace as part of our duties to train our newcomers. For those who wear the beret, seeing another Airman in the beret is like seeing family, a member of our tribe. It means you are one of us. When the public sees our beret, it is a symbol of trust, safety, and security. We are the visible embodiment of “our nation’s sword and shield…its sentry and avenger.” We must always hold that trust sacred.

Many young Defenders don’t know our beret crest was used to identify the Major Command to which you were assigned. When the Defensor Fortis flash replaced the command crest, we became not only “Strong Defenders” as the Latin translates, but “Defenders of the Force,” a force unified that protects all, with a nod to the Air Force’s 1041st Security Police Squadron (T) and Operation SAFESIDE’s heritage patch as reflected in the enlisted flash. Uniforms will come and go while the beret will remain. We wear Kevlar helmets out of necessity. During those times, the beret is guardedly set aside where it will remain “on watch” for that moment when routine operations, good order and discipline are restored and we may return it to its rightful place.

Speaking of good order and discipline – we returned many times to our Security Forces General Orders during the past few years. Perhaps your first lesson from technical training echoes in your mind – “I will take charge of my post…” As the youngest, newest Defender, you are expected to be a leader, regardless of circumstance…”I will report all violations of orders…” On the calmest, sunniest day, just when you thought time could not slow any further and that you might really die of boredom, “I will sound the alarm…” Our general orders are as relevant today as they were in 1947. Never before in my years have I participated in as many conversations with other flag officers, most not Defenders, on how our National Defense Strategy demands “mission command” – the ability of our most junior Airmen to understand Commander’s intent and act in the absence of leadership direction, in the fog of war, perhaps in the absence of communications capabilities. We train our Defenders to do that from Day 1. Our general orders are the essence of mission command. We must hold them sacred.

The next one will make you scratch your head. Then it will hurt. I promise the veterans and retirees I’m not making this up. I added “chow” to the list out of frustration for what I believe we (the Air Force writ large) let go and what I believe Defenders, if not the entire Air Force, need to take back. Chow. You read that correctly. Chow. It’s an affectionate term. Breaking bread with one or more Defenders. Getting in out of the hot or cold. Getting off post and getting a load off your feet. It’s a lost art. This is not simply because I cringe when I see a Defender eating on post or when I drive through an entry control point and smell french fries. This is because chow is leaders taking care of their team. Chow is supervisors engaging with subordinates. Chow is where you hear what’s going on in your Airman’s life. It’s where you figure out where they are really from; how it’s possible that they put ketchup on their scrambled eggs, mayo on their french fries, and Texas Pete’s on everything else. It begins the debate over whether yeast donuts are better than cake, beans belong in chili, whether corn is a vegetable, and all those other great debates that generally result in cold silence until turn in. It doesn’t have to happen at the DFAC but it should. At a table of our own. With a weapons rack to the side and with a Defender sitting at the table in a “Use of Force” posture that says “sit at your own risk” while the rest of the team goes through the line. We have flight chiefs who truly have no idea how to conduct chow relief because they never had to do so. They are not even sure what we’re asking. That’s not a critique – it’s a fact. We need to bring it back. I don’t care if our Defenders eat at the squadron, at the fire station (now there’s a thought), at a day room in the dormitory, or in a heritage room (now you’re talking), but they deserve 20 minutes off post to break bread with another Airman, get off their feet, and out of the elements. Chow is a cherished ritual we should not have let go. I believe we did. Time to take it back. The second most dreaded thing to hear over the radio after “remount” used to be “call in your box lunch order.” Clearly, some Airman did something so heinous that the Flight Chief suspended chow relief. You did not want to be that Airman. We need to figure this out. May the Chaplain help whoever says we don’t have enough manpower to do chow relief. This is my charge; hold it sacred, and bring it back for our Defenders.

May the debate over what we hold sacred continue and may it never end. I learn something from our Defenders every day, whether in uniform or civilian, active, guard, or reserve, and whether they are veterans, retired, or still serve. I consider myself a lifelong learner, so keep it coming. You are making all 38,000 of us better, every day.


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