The USAF Core Values

First flight, 120 feet in 12 seconds, 10:35 a.m.; Kitty Hawk, North Carolina
Daniels, John T., photographer

The United States Air Force (USAF), along with the other services (Army, Navy, Marines, and Coast Guard), has its own culture and its own value set.  (Even within each service there are subcultures that differ heavily between squadron, i.e. industries – which is interesting in itself).  I wrote about the basic value sets I was exposed to when I was a child through high school (The Ten Commandments, Secular/Scientific values, and The Cowboy Code).  Those value sets prepared me well for military life, although there’s nothing quite like serving in the armed forces.  I was well suited, well prepared, but it was 24/7; there was never a time nor a place to disregard the rules, the values.  Beyond stressful.  So worth it.

I look back to the early days with my anthropology eyes and I see young adults from all over the country being thrown headfirst into an entirely new way of life.  I see them suffering from culture shock.  The breakdown and rebuilding of 18 to 20-something years of hard wiring is fascinating.  People are truly resilient, strong, and capable of great change.  Now, some don’t make it.  Others said they were weak.  I truly wondered if they knew better. 

Anecdotally, I myself shut down and did what I had to do.  Yes, I am accomplished because I am bright and motivated, but in my youth it was more that I was obstinate.  Perseverance was both my greatest strength and my greatest weakness.  I was going to see it through no matter the outcome.  I was fixated with how tough I could be in body and mind. And if that meant putting myself and my ego aside then so be it.  But that was all about my ego, wasn’t it?  

Over time with exposure in the Air Force my perseverance turned into loyalty and my ego melted away into service to others.  When I went to Leadership School and I put on my first sergeant chevron, I fully embraced and understood what it meant to live a life in service to others.  I took the USAF Core Values and the Airman’s Creed and placed them close to heart.  I joined the base Honor Guard and followed my passion into Quality Assurance and Ground Safety.  I put every other Airman ahead of me (we are all Airmen first).  I started going to college.  I volunteered for deployment.  When I was stateside, I built homes with Habitat for Humanity, and fostered abused dogs until they could find their forever homes.  I lived for others and I was never happier.

The USAF Core Values

Integrity First

“Integrity is the willingness to do what is right even when no one else is looking. It is the ‘moral compass’ – the inner voice, the voice of self-control, the basis for the trust imperative in today’s Air Force.”

Service Before Self

“As an Air Force core value, service is not about the Air Force institution, it is about an enduring commitment and dedication of the individual Airman to the age-old military virtue of selfless dedication to duty at all times and in all circumstances. This includes putting one’s life at risk if called to do so. It is a willingness to set aside one’s needs and to make personal sacrifices. It is an understanding of the 24-hour-a-day commitment, accepting expeditionary deployments and assignments away from home and accomplishing the task at hand no matter the hardship. Service before self means taking the time and making the effort to properly plan and execute with precision regardless of the personal costs. Service before self is total commitment to the highest ideals of personal sacrifice in defense of the Constitution and the United States.”

“Further, service before self does not mean service before family. Airmen have a duty to the Service and an equally strong duty to their families. The difference is there are times when service to the nation requires subordinating the needs of the family. It is the responsibility of the Airman to prepare and provide for his or her family when deployed or when duty requires it. Airmen understand they have a duty to fulfill the unit’s mission. This includes performing to the best of one’s abilities the assigned responsibilities and tasks without worrying how a career will be affected. As professionals, they exercise good judgment while performing their duties and understand rules exist for good reason. They also understand service before self asks us to subordinate our personal interests, attitudes, and aspirations to the greater cause and the demands it places on us. It means Airmen place the welfare of their peers and subordinates ahead of their own personal needs or comforts.”

Excellence In All We Do

“This core value demands Airmen constantly strive to perform at their best. It is a commitment to high standards and an understanding that each Airman has been entrusted with our nation’s security. Airmen understand the Air Force mission is very complex and exists in a constantly changing world. They understand that all efforts in planning and executing airpower are designed to ensure the national security interests of the United States. Therefore, they must always strive to meet or exceed standards objectively based on mission needs and continuously search for new and innovative ways to successfully accomplish the mission. It is not only a professional obligation but a moral responsibility as well.”

“On a personal level, Airmen seek out and complete developmental education; work to stay in their best physical, mental, and moral shape; and continue to enhance their professional competencies. They are diligent to maintain their job skills, knowledge, and personal readiness at the highest possible levels. They understand organizational excellence can only be achieved when its members work together to successfully reach a common goal in an atmosphere that preserves individual self-worth. No Airman wins the fight alone. Each organization should foster a culture that emphasizes a team mentality while maintaining high standards and accomplishing the mission. As stewards of the nation’s resources, Airmen should aggressively protect and manage both human and material assets. The most precious resource is people, and it is each Airman’s responsibility to ensure he or she is trained, fit, focused, and ready to accomplish the mission safely and effectively.”

The Airman’s Creed

I am an American Airman.
I am a warrior.
I have answered my nation’s call.

I am an American Airman.
My mission is to fly, fight, and win.
I am faithful to a proud heritage,
A tradition of honor,
And a legacy of valor.

I am an American Airman.
Guardian of freedom and justice,
My nation’s sword and shield,
Its sentry and avenger.
I defend my country with my life.

I am an American Airman.
Wingman, leader, warrior.
I will never leave an Airman behind,
I will never falter,
And I will not fail.

If you’d like to read more USAF doctrine, you can find the literature at
I recommend Operational-Level Doctrine, Volume 2. Leadership.

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