What is the face of the Air Force?
Your first thought might be a plane. Our technology and equipment have been major communication points down through the years. And, why not? We can all picture a squadron of
B-17s lumbering toward a target over Europe, or the F-15 Eagle dominating the skies over Iraq, or B-52s in Linebacker II bombing North Vietnam to the peace table and providing the sound and quake of hope to our POWs in Hanoi.
But the real face of the Air Force is Airmen. The word Airman is a proper noun just like Soldier, Sailor and Marine. Unfortunately, and I don't mean to be negative, we don't always get to shine the light on our Airmen and so we become just another face in the crowd.
Our Airmen have great stories to tell. Check out this NPR story by Tom Bowman on a Combat Search and Rescue mission in Afghanistan. The story centers around the fact that we've left no one behind in Afghanistan, dead or alive. This isn't a story about the Pave Hawk helicopter or the effectiveness of Night-Vision Goggles. Instead it's a look at how Airmen risked their lives deep in enemy territory to recover a Soldier that gave the ultimate sacrifice for his country. That's the face of the Air Force.
Too often though we fail to get out of our own way. For example many Airmen are either forbidden or unwilling to use their full names when talking to reporters. That has kept us out of some national-level stories of late.
For example, USA Today reporter Tom Vanden Brook, on a recent trip to Afghanistan couldn't use quotes provided by Airmen because they would only provide call-signs. These were great quotes about how the Air Force avoids collateral damage and avoids killing civilians in air strikes. That story, an important one for us, didn't get told.
Airmen and their stories are our key to success in a global information environment that operates at the speed of heat. If the Air Force wants to be competitive then we have to make it personal.