Taking the Air Force Core Values to a Professional Level


As the old saying goes, “Amateurs practice until they get it right; professionals practice until they can’t get it wrong.”


In his book, The Power of Professionalism: The Seven Mind-Sets that Drive Performance and Build Trust, Bill Wiersma proclaims professionals hold themselves to a higher standard. He also says professionalism is more about who you are and less about what kind of work you do.


Because Air Force core values are such a big part of who we are as Airmen, we owe it to ourselves to bring our understanding of these core values beyond an amateur’s perspective to a professional’s perspective. An amateur’s perspective peaks at being able to recite the three Air Force core values of Integrity First, Service before Self, and Excellence in all we do. While this works great as a quick reminder, it falls short of guiding us more precisely on how to act every day. A professional’s perspective involves an understanding of the Air Force core values with its defining virtues, and through decisions and actions, living them on and off duty. 


In August 2015, the Air Force introduced its pamphlet, “America’s Air Force:  A Profession of Arms,” (found at e-publishing.af.mil/shared/media/document/AFD-150826-047.pdf) as an evolution to the “little blue book,” which initially captured the Air Force core values. The pamphlet illustrates the Air Force core values with its defining virtues in greater fidelity:

- Integrity first:  doing the right thing, even when no one is watching

-- Honesty:  requires us to evaluate our performance against standards, and to conscientiously and accurately report findings.  The service member’s word must be unquestionable.

-- Courage:  not the absence of fear, but doing the right thing despite the fear

-- Accountability:  individuals maintain transparency, seek honest and constructive feedback, and take ownership of the outcomes of their actions and decisions

- Service before self:  professional duties take precedence over personal desires

-- Duty:  the obligation to perform what is required for the mission.  Our sense of duty is a personal one and bound by the oath of service we took as individuals

-- Loyalty:  an internal commitment to the success and preservation of something bigger than ourselves.  Our loyalty is to the Nation first, the values and commitments of our Air Force second, and finally to the men and women with whom we serve.

            -- Respect:  treating others with dignity and valuing them as individuals. 

- Excellence in all we do:  continuously advance our craft and increase our knowledge as Airmen (does not mean that we demand perfection in everything from everyone)

-- Mission:  mission focus encompasses operations, product and resources excellence.  The complex undertaking of the Air Force mission requires us to harness the ingenuity, expertise, and elbow grease of all Airmen.

-- Discipline:  an individual commitment to uphold the highest of personal and professional standards.  Airmen commit to a life of discipline and self-control.  We demonstrate it in attitude, work ethic, and effort directed at continuous improvement, whether it be pursuing professional military education or nurturing ourselves physically, intellectually, emotionally, or spiritually.

-- Teamwork:  essential to triumph at every level.  Airmen recognize the interdependency of every member’s contributions towards the mission and strive for organizational excellence.  We not only give our personal best, but also challenge and motivate each other.


With this richer context of the Air Force core values, an Airman can take deliberate steps to practice a better application of the core values in their day-to-day actions. By accepting the challenge of living the Air Force core values on and off duty, Airmen develop professionally and contribute to a culture of trust where all Airmen can bring out their best. The Profession of Arms Center of Excellence website, airman.af.mil, contains a wide array of tools and knowledge for Airmen to professionalize their perspective on the Air Force core values and practice it until they can’t get it wrong.