The Importance of "Do It Right"

  • Published
  • By CMSgt Tommy G. Rhodes
  • 501CSW
When I arrived at my first duty station as a young A1C, one of the first things my NCOIC, MSgt Randall Keller did was ask for me to build an RG-58 test cable, which is just simply a cable very similar to what connects your cable box to your TV set. He explained that, in addition to meeting all of the technical standards listed in the T.O., he expected my connection to meet his standards, known as the Keller Stress Test.

Eager to impress my new boss with all that I had learned in tech school, I set about the task of soldering a connector onto the end of a cable. When I was finished, I measured all the criteria listed in the Technical Order. I checked signal loss, made sure that there was no short between the shielding and the center conductor, etc...and when I thought everything was ready, I presented it to MSgt Keller. He promptly gripped both ends of the cable, gave a sharp tug, and pulled my shiny new connector right off the end of the cable.

"Do it over. Do it right this time."

For the next 2 hours, I soldered connectors onto that cable. And for 2 hours, MSgt Keller pulled them apart. Until I got it right.

That was a great lesson for a young Airman to learn, although frustrating.  Looking back, I realize that I took three main points from that experience.  First, even though my work had met the minimum standards set out in the written guidance, I hadn’t met my boss’s standards.  Second, excellence matters in our business, it’s not just a bumper sticker or catch phrase.  Finally, it’s MY job to do MY job right the first time…it’s no one else’s job to fix my work.

In the Air Force, minimum standards are set out for us in a variety of ways, from AFIs to Technical Orders and handbooks, but it’s our chain of command and our supervisors who set the performance standards in our units and it’s those standards that we hold ourselves to and strive to exceed.

That’s how we achieve the level of excellence required by our profession.  What I didn’t know as a young Airman, was that the minimum T.O. requirements were fine for a cable that would be used in the static setting of a back-shop, but that same cable would not hold up to the rigors of a field deployment.  In other words, the minimum was simply not good enough.

Additionally, it’s incumbent upon all of us to do our jobs right the first time, whether it’s building a cable, writing a performance evaluation, preparing a budget, or anything else. The consequences for failing to do so can range from hours wasted with time-consuming re-work on the mild end of the spectrum, to mission failure on the extreme end. 

One final thought: the repercussions of failing to hold our teammates and subordinates to the highest of standards have longer term detrimental effects, as well.  For instance, if MSgt Keller had simply accepted my initial attempts, then not only would I have never improved, but when I eventually made MSgt and had a team of my own to lead, the standards would’ve already slipped.  Alternatively, he could have fixed my mistakes for me.  That course would have the same long-term negative effect, but with an additional consequence.  The Air Force would then have been paying a MSgt to do A1C work.  If MSgt Keller had said anything other than “Do it over.  Do it right.”, then both I and the Air Force would be worse off for it.