I don't make this stuff ... I just serve it

INCIRLIK AIR BASE, Turkey -- A traveling salesperson stopped at a fast food restaurant for a cup of coffee. When the server delivered the coffee, the friendly salesperson attempted to make conversation.

"Looks like rain," the salesperson said.
"I don't make this stuff," the server responded, "I just serve it."

Hmm ... think something was missed in this exchange? Good communication should involve transmission, reception and confirmation ... put another way, talking, listening and understanding. Communication is everything and the way we communicate ultimately determines the quality of our lives. We live this point every day here at the "Lik." Just think about the bridges we must negotiate ... between countries, between commands, between functions, between families, between partners and between friends.

According to research psychologists, the average one-year-old child has a three-word vocabulary. By 15 months, children can speak 19 words. At two, most youngsters possess a working knowledge of 272 words.

Their vocabulary catapults to 896 words by age three, 1,540 by age four, and 2,072 words by age five. By the age of six the average child can communicate with 2,562 words. Our word accumulation continues to grow yet effective use of them does not necessarily follow. Even though the average adult speaks at a rate of 125 to 200 words per minute and up to 18,000 words per day, this does not mean messages have been clearly relayed ... "I just serve it."

Computers, chat rooms, Web mail, e-mail, and Blackberries just make the communication thing that much easier and harder at the same time. The face-to-face thing is hard enough as my example at the top of this article clearly points out. At least face to face we can augment the exchange with body language ... even there; some have better vocabularies than others. So often I am told "I sent them an e-mail" when I ask why someone is not at a meeting. This is not communication, its transmission. We have one mouth and two ears ... listen, receive and understand ... it's the same no matter what bridge you are trying to negotiate. If we get good at the listening part, we'll get good at the mission part. This is imperative as we prepare for our upcoming inspections.

Electronic media is quickly becoming a dumping ground of vast mountains of information waste. Think about it, how often do you go back and look at some file that you saved three months ago, six months ago or one year ago? Bandwidth, constellation dwell time, and data mining are the problems that we are facing in a send-and-respond environment. Our communications community in the Air Force has been at the forefront in addressing these issues, in transforming its practices, and applying the intuitive optimizing principals of Smart Ops 21. This issue of the Tip of the Sword focuses on our communications team and will hopefully give you a better insight into what they do.

I'd be remiss if I did not briefly touch on the topic of elective surgery in light of our tragic loss two weeks ago. We are working on a base instruction to cover this topic. While the Air Force policy for members is fairly clear we need to ensure we apply it to our local situation. Within the month we expect to publish the base instruction. It will reiterate the Air Force policy for members and ensure that wing leadership is fully aware of all personnel pursuing off-base elective surgery. The reason is simple ... we must be able to respond with legal and medical support when things do not go as expected. We are going to begin an aggressive education campaign to ensure that every one of us is fully informed of the risks associated with elective surgery. Our loss was tragic and I know that you expect me to take action to reduce the chance that it will ever happen again ... and I will.