Lt. Col. James Gherdovich, 39th LRS: Seven expectations of every Airman

INCIRLIK AIR BASE, Turkey -- I love my Airmen. They are capable warriors ready to sacrifice everything so that our nation thrives in a world ready to implode. They are committed to the team and to improving the world from the inside out, one challenge at a time. My team shares seven expectations that are the touchstone of our commitment to each other and our nation. We share a common bond that manifests itself as 'excellence' in all we do.

I humbly offer these seven expectations so you, as a leader of Airmen, might reflect on these beliefs to help better express your own leadership perspective and so you might consider your role as a servant to our service and appreciate the importance of setting the right foundation.

1) Understand why you serve and be willing to let that understanding grow and develop within you each day you serve.

Thank you up front for raising your right hand with courage to defend our nation with your life. Along with that commitment is the fact that we all volunteered to serve for different reasons. You might have wanted to get out of your hometown; because your dad, sister, or uncle served; or possibly you choose to because it is a great path for education. Today, that reason is just a part of your story to be told.

Now, look ahead and ask: Why am I still serving? What has changed within me from when I first joined? Why do I remain an Airman today? Only you know. But, have you asked yourself lately? Understand why you serve and let your passion for service to our nation and the desire to serve alongside amazing, likeminded warriors guide you toward accomplishments greater than anyone could have ever predicted.

2) Embrace the team.

I was born with the will and determination of an athlete. From my first breath entering this world, I embraced the concept of sacrificing for my team. I got traded early on (I was adopted), but I embraced my new team. In all seriousness, sports' most valuable players are often moved from team to team to match the needs of that particular unit. The Air Force is no different, and each new unit is your adoptive family.

To the coaches (Leaders): We lose and gain Airmen every day, creating massive holes in knowledge; but from the ashes of that loss rises the opportunity to add MVPs from other teams to our roster. We gain insight and fresh perspectives. It's solely upon us as leaders to foster a climate that allows them to thrive and build upon their personal past successes as well as our team's legacy.

To the players (Airmen): As part of our culture, we are continuously traded. What an opportunity for each of us free agents. Here's my belief, and I have yet to see it proven wrong: If you choose to embrace the team you have been traded to with a "no holds barred" attitude, you will make a difference. Embracing your Air Force team is never wrong, no matter how different the team appears from the one you left behind. Your new team needs your talents, and will forever be better with you as a member.

At the core of every team are its values, and the team's bedrock is its creed. Embrace this and stand united with common values that transcend individual talent boundaries; surely as a team, we will not falter, nor fail.

3) Give your team your best. As a team, we will be 'excellent'.

Reality check: No Airman can perform at a peak level every moment of every day. However, every Airman should expect the brothers and sisters in arms alongside him/her to give their best when called upon. No team expects every player to be excellent on their own. If that were the case, there wouldn't be the need for a team. When you give your best - alongside other Airmen giving their best - your team will be "excellent." That concept is fundamental to the Air Force "Wingman" culture.

You carry a unique set of talents well beyond your skill level training - talents that define you and strengthen the team overall. Your unique qualities provide an opportunity to contribute something more. If you give the team your best, those qualities will light up and redefine the level of performance your team is capable of achieving. Your team will perform with "excellence" because of who you are and what you bring to the fight.

4) Expect the best from the Airmen you serve with, and hold them accountable to high
standards.

We are the world's best Air Force. We maintain the edge on our competition through discipline and high standards not because we are willing to "make examples" of our teammates, but rather because we all understand our team deserves nothing but our best and pays a high price otherwise.

Here's an example. If I have a lapse in judgment or display a moment of weakness that manifests itself in a crash in my standards, my team pays the bill. The impacts of degraded standards are always deeper to my team than they are to me. Sure, I get in trouble; but, what about my team? Instead of spending time with other players rewarding their excellence, my leader spends time deciding on how to correct my behavior. Instead of bragging on all our team's accomplishments, my leader has to justify why I should remain a member and how I'm going to get back to being among the best. Instead of steering the boat, my leader is stuck fixing problems in the engine room.

I expect my team to hold me accountable so that I don't leave them short changed. That expectation of them also brings with it a sense of personal obligation and a commitment to honor my nation's call: To help my team improve our national security and defend the freedoms I personally sacrifice daily so that they may be preserved for my fellow Americans. The standard may be high, but the reward for consistently upholding those standards is a seat at the table with the most elite fighting force in the world.

5) Embrace challenges. It's in an Airman's blood. When you face a problem, tackle it like a blitzing safety
.

This analogy has stumped a few people, so I refer them to "Terry Tate Office Linebacker." Like anything awesome, you can find it with a quick Internet search. Challenges look much smaller once they are squashed. What a beautiful, violent metaphor from an aging warrior athlete that's nearly closed out the chapter on his athletic pursuits in life. But, this old warrior athlete, this Airman, thrives on the high of helping other Airmen take on challenges head-on.

Since the early days of the Air Force, the defense of our nation has relied on the ingenuity and passion of men and women, like you and me, to solve our nation's most challenging security problems. From the over-flight of the trenches during WWI to close air support for our forces in Afghanistan, Airmen have always found a way to take the fight to the enemy and tackle problems like a blitzing safety. You are part of the next chapter of our proud heritage. Be proud of your bloodline and embrace the challenges laid before you. Tackle them all with passion and confidence, and never look back. You can't write the next chapter of your life if you keep reading the last one you wrote.

6) Fight nature's pressure to be selfish. We are all flawed humans, and all designed the same.

Blemished from creation and trained in childhood to be selfish, it's all about "me." I need food. I need a bath. I need sleep. At some point, we begin to be trained to care for others. But, we resist from our core. I want the ball. I want candy. I want to play. As we mature, we learn to value service, but only when it's convenient and there's something in it for us. Today is the day to change that perspective.

You were created to serve, and you are needed desperately. Turn on the news. Nearly every story in the news represents a human being in need. You have the capacity to fill that need, either individually or, more powerfully, as a team. "Me time" is way overrated. You'll never regret the time you gave up on your computer or game console to help a fellow Airman or, better yet, perhaps someone less fortunate in this world. But to know that, you have to do that.

Take a moment to consider all the time you spend just taking care of you. It's probably overwhelming. I can confess the same. For those that do sacrifice and this doesn't speak to, God bless you. To the rest of us, just remember: There will be time to take a break and reset, rest assured. But if you want to make a true difference in your own life, you have to live your life for more than just yourself.

7) Never ever sacrifice your integrity.

Integrity cannot be taken from you - you can only lose it yourself. If you struggle with this, recognize it and do your best to correct it when it happens. Your character will one day be stronger than those who never face that struggle. Humans are like diamonds. None are perfect, rather only those with varying degrees of imperfections; and, only those capable of being polished into precious stones are saved.

In a world filled with pressures from every direction, and in our high-stakes, no-fail profession, if you don't deliberately battle to preserve your integrity and eliminate the impurities that challenge it, you will let the cancer of lies consume you. Once you lose that battle, you'll forever be cast out of the team. There's no room for men and women of low moral fiber in the Air Force. Sounds serious, right? That's because it is.

Integrity is the first thing my teammates expect of me, you, and of each other, and the last thing we will let slide. Whatever struggle brings you to those crossroads of your character will not be worth the consequences of choosing the wrong path. Integrity, especially in the profession of arms where it may mean someone's life, is not negotiable. Like those precious diamonds, a team of Airmen, hardened by life's experiences that testify to their character's merit, are unbreakable and can cut through the toughest challenges this world presents.

These are seven expectations every Airman can meet. I give them to my Airmen in confidence, knowing I can count on them to develop into battle-ready warriors prepared to defend my family, my friends, and our nation with their lives. I challenge you to refine and find assurance in your own leadership perspective; and with steadfast determination, drive your team toward excellence. Godspeed Airmen!