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Duty: The principle that defines our profession

  • Published
  • By Brig. Gen. Balan Ayyar
  • Air Force Recruiting Service commander
Editor's Note: This commentary was written for the Air Force Academy's publication 'Character Connections'.

Duty. This single concept is the foundation of the profession of arms. It's the fundamental precept that Airmen will do what they have been entrusted to do in times of peace and peril. Trust is formed instantly between Airmen because of this commitment.

Aircraft are flown, missiles are readied, and satellites are launched -- all on the fundamental notion that each of us has done our duty. It encapsulates our core values of service before self, excellence and of course, integrity.

Duty is not at all affected by sarcasm, the petty scandal of weakness and the passing tinsel and trash of material things. As a concept, it is transcendent by simple adherence to the values it embodies; that we are committed to something bigger and more noble than our own self aggrandizement; that other Airmen are depending on our action; and that the consequences of lack of will are great and will be borne by many.

The universal values of love, trust, right conduct, and truth are embodied in this organizing principle and so ennoble it. Duty brings about a faith in other people that is akin, in its finest hour, to the faith many share in God. The character transformation that comes about by living according to this precept is what gives us our heroes -- Airmen who know they must act in order to save others.

What makes some cower in the face of danger and others rise? When you constantly act for others, for the greater good, your mind and intellect are disciplined and become your servant rather than your master -- training for the time when you will be tested.
There is no equivalent organizing principle in any other profession.

And yet, I agree, the notion of duty seems distant in today's world, like something left behind from a glorious history. In that era, as General Robert E. Lee is attributed to saying -- you could do no more and no less. Duty was a sacred calling.

To a younger generation these hallowed thoughts may seem out of touch. Sarcasm and cynicism have crept into the calculations. The values that made the notion of Duty so sacred have been quietly dissected and detached.

For some, Duty has been reduced to simply fulfilling one's responsibilities as opposed to performing at your highest level for the greater good; or by living each day knowing you could have done no more to help others in your mission.

Thankfully the system has a way of recognizing Airmen like this. Over time they are diminished. Based on those Airmen I suppose, as proposed here, there is talk of duty being somehow passé or more directly, dead to a new generation of Airmen. From my perspective, nothing could be further from the truth.

For thousands of years, despite not being able to describe gravity or understand it we have walked on this earth. The fact that a new generation of brilliant young Airmen has a different lexicon doesn't diminish the expectations of our culture to live up to this notion of Duty.
Duty is the gravity in the profession of arms. Whether or not you understand it is of little consequence. You must conform to it. It penetrates every aspect of our expectations and training. It is who we are and what we believe.

More than the other services, who have the luxury of numbers to cover their risk, the United States Air Force deploys and is prepared to fight one Airman at a time. The notion of duty must be so ingrained that it is instinctive.

I have never been more confident of this. Airmen are deploying from every Air Force specialty code, early in their careers, empowered by our best traditions and highest expectations. Many of them are volunteers to return to the war. They felt connected to the profession of arms there, in conflict, in a way that only they who have experienced it can know. There's certain peace that warriors know; and it comes from this, the certain knowledge that they could have done no more to help their fellow Airman.

Global Power, Reach and Vigilance all depend on individual Airmen doing their Duty. This is the reason we are the world's finest Air Force.

One last thought on this. Character development is the single most important aspect of your development as a leader. Leadership and duty hinge on an individual's character. The values have to align.

Thoughts, words and deeds must match. Your credibility, authenticity and ultimately your power to transform will turn on your character. The tiny temptations of power will unveil any flaw, no matter how minor. The demands of your Duty will reveal any weakness in your character. Either the circumstances in life will define you or you will define the circumstances. The difference in those outcomes is found in your character.

The net effect of your life comes to you in moments of crisis. People of character and purpose have clarity and the will to act. All the other endeavors you may be engaged in at the Academy are for this purpose alone. The end of education must be character. It alone will allow you to see and understand the duty you have to your fellow Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors and Marines and earn the trust to lead them.

Thank you for letting me share a few thoughts with you on this. This is an exciting time to be serving your Air Force and Nation. There's never been a greater need for young officers of character and distinction. I look forward to the next generation of great American Airmen.