What are the keys to a successful career in the Air Force?


There are many different paths to choose from, opportunities to take and obstacles to overcome.

From personal experience, I have read and heard many discussions on what it takes to have a successful career in the military. I would like to present a few thoughts I developed over time from my perspective during twenty plus years as a U.S. Armed Forces service member.

I was lucky enough to have enlisted in the Air Force right after high school in 1989. The leadership opportunities I was given as an Airman and NCO gave me the confidence to complete a Bachelor’s degree and earn a commission through Officer Training School in 2000. These are just a few ideas I would like to share that helped me along the way.

Take pride in having the opportunity to serve in the United States military. Most Americans will never know the feeling of being part of an organization with a vital responsibility. Always be mindful of how you play a critical role in supporting and defending the United States.

Never stop learning. The easiest way to have a stagnant career is to let yourself become comfortable and stop challenging yourself.  It is essential to master your duties and responsibilities. 

It is also important to learn about your supervisor’s duties as well as what their bosses do for the unit.  This allows you to understand the goals and priorities of your organization as well as the role it plays in supporting the bigger mission. 

Of course, taking college courses and professional military education is a necessity.  Having a good understanding of your leadership’s responsibilities helps support them while performing your duties. 

Don’t wait for opportunities to be given to you, make your own. Find a mentor and don’t be afraid to ask for advice. Your supervisors will be more than willing to help you advance if you show interest and determination.

Be respectful to others. Early in our lives, we learned the importance of treating others with courtesy and respect. Unfortunately, many forgot these lessons or worse, never learned them.

Everyone deserves to be treated with respect, especially our junior ranking military members and government civilians. Many problems can be avoided if we treat each other with respect at all times. Treating someone with disrespect leads to an escalation of a bad situation and it will undermine unit cohesion over time.

Be likeable and valuable. This goes along with treating everyone with respect. It is important to maintain a good working relationship, considering most of our day is spent with coworkers.

Being a team member means striving to get along in the workplace and becoming a dependable member of the organization. Your colleagues will appreciate it and your supervisors will notice and reward your positive attitude. In time, this will provide you opportunities to excel.

Protect your career by not associating with people who could harm it. I lived in the dorms my first five years in the Air Force, at three different overseas assignments. During this time, I had a number of roommates that made bad decisions which violated the Air Force’s core values.

Although they repeatedly stated how much they love being in the Air Force, their actions demonstrated otherwise. It is easy to make bad choices when peer pressure is involved, so try to remove yourself from these situations. Over time, this will influence your career one way or another.

Always remember, this is not just a job, but a way of life. America and the entire world expect the very best from members of the U.S Armed Forces. While it is not always possible to live up to all of these demands, we must try to do our own personal best.

Although the day to day grind can be disheartening at times, keep in mind we are all working toward a greater goal. Advance your career by furthering your education and making good choices in your personal life. Be proactive in everything you do. Take pride of your role in the military and the world.