2, 3, and 4

  • Published
  • By MSgt. James Polk III
  • 501st Combat Support Wing


Have you ever met someone who is only looking out for themselves?  I refer to these individuals as having a “ME” mentality, not a “WE” mentality, failing to look out for the team.  For most of us this is a deal breaker in building a positive relationship.  As a veteran of 17 years, I have seen this mentality create a negative work environment by deteriorating a team’s dynamic and a unit’s cohesion. Many times in our careers we are told to look out for “Number 1”.  We are told nobody will take care of number 1, better than you.  Although the above statement is true, we forget to look out for 2, 3, and 4.  Who are 2, 3, and 4?

I have labeled “Twos” as our peers.  When I say peers, I am not talking about those who are in the same age group as you, but instead those that typically share the same rank or responsibilities as you.  I believe that peers are the most important personnel in this profession, and for some this will be a hard concept to grasp, especially for an Airman with the “ME” mentality.  Some will say that it is hard to lookout for your peers with the Air Force implementing a competitive promotion system, and I would argue because of that reason, it is more important than ever.  Although the Air Force promotes a culture of healthy competition, there are those who do not understand the concept of healthy and will trample on others to obtain the next rank.  If you lack the “WE” mentality and are not looking out for your peers, than your character is flawed, and if your character is flawed than why would the Air Force push you for promotion.  Former President Abraham Lincoln is credited with saying, “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power”.  Regardless of the Air Force’s promotion systems; caring, educating, and developing our peers is paramount to unit and mission success.

The “Threes” are our leaders.  They are your Commanders, Chiefs, First Sergeants, OICs, Superintendents, Section Chiefs, and NCOICs.  They are the ones behind the scenes ensuring you have everything you need to be successful.  Your leaders, such as the Wing Commander, can lead from the front by setting the Wing’s mission and vision for others to emulate and follow.  Your Superintendents, OICs, and NCOICs can lead from the middle ground pushing mission completion and success.  Moreover, leaders such as the First Sergeant lead from the rear, picking up those who fall and watching to ensure the line of good order and discipline is maintained.  As Airmen, we should be taking care of our leaders to give them the time to take care of us.  How do we take care of our leaders?  You can accomplish this task, by simply following the guidelines bestowed upon you in AFIs and policy letters.  Furthermore, you can accomplish this by doing what you are told when you are told, as long as it is ethical, morale, and legal.  There is nothing more draining on leadership, than dealing with Airmen who fail to maintain discipline, dress and appearance standards, and deployment readiness standards.  So DON’T be that Airman who takes your leadership’s attention away from those who have earned it by adhering to standards.

Last but certainly not least, the “Fours” are our subordinates.  Our subordinates are tomorrow’s leaders.  They are the ones we should lookout for by being a river not a reservoir.  A river is someone who free flows information, knowledge, training and wisdom; creating avenues for success to ensure they are ready to protect America’s interest.  A reservoir is one who holds information and keeps their subordinates in the dark, not communicating and in turn creating confusion. Information that is held is like water held in a reservoir that becomes stagnate and lacks the fresh qualities that come from water that is free flowing.

In closing, the point that I want to convey is, having a “ME” mentality is toxic to an organization and erodes mission accomplishment.  I challenge each of you to foster a “WE” mentality, not only taking care of Number 1, but of 2, 3, and 4.  Regardless, of which order you put your 2, 3, or 4, the point is to take care of everyone up above you, beside you, and under you.  I want to leave you with something I try to live by daily, a verse, Proverbs 27:17 (NIV), “As Iron Sharpens Iron, so one person sharpens another.”  Build a team that others can emulate and take care of 1 through 4!