Many Airmen, many reasons for service committment

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Richard Smith
  • 65th Medical Support Squadron commander
During a recent stand-up meeting, the wing chaplain shared his thoughts on the word "diligence." The discussion that followed caused me think about words and definitions. Consider the word "commitment." A dictionary definition of commitment includes phrases like "the act of committing," or "the state of being committed." Words like guarantee, pledge, promise and responsibility are used to characterize commitment in all professions. In the military, we take an oath (pledge) to support and defend the Constitution, and we are very detailed in specifying roles and responsibilities. The nature of our work requires us to be prepared to execute our mission in any condition, location or time.

Commitment to the organization is essential, but do we know commitment when we see it?

A 2006 Congressional Budget Office study on military recruiting and retention reported that the DoD recruits around 170,000 enlisted members each year. Career point retention goals vary by service, but consistently only 10 percent of these recruits will retire after 20 years of military service and each has his or her own reason(s) for making an initial or career commitment to the military. As I pursued ideas on the subject I came across a study on organizational and professional commitment conducted by Rahman and Hanafiah, two Malaysian social scientists steeped in the art and science of organizational theory.

Buried in the usual collection of variables, coefficients and statistical smoothing formulas that are always found in real scientific studies, was their suggestion that organizational commitment comes in three forms: Affective Commitment, or employees who attach to the organization because they choose to do so...we'll call this person the teammate; Continuance Commitment, or those whose commitment is tied to an awareness of the real costs (perhaps, money) associated with leaving the organization...we'll call this person the pragmatist; and Normative Commitment, those who commit out of a sense of obligation...we'll call this person the patriot.

Science serves no real purpose until it's used in the field, so while conducting PCS exit interviews recently I decided to put the Rahman and Hanafiah 'three commitment suggestion' to the test. My small test group included two males and one female; two white and one black, all from similar economic backgrounds; one airman, one NCO, and one CGO, all with time in service ranging from 2 to 10 years.

Going in I only knew that all three were high performing Airmen, committed to the technical and leadership responsibilities that come with serving. I asked each why they committed to the Air Force: the airman enjoys being part of a team and doing something important (the teammate); the NCO serves because it is a means to an end (the pragmatist); and the CGO serves out of a sense of patriotism (the patriot). No kidding, these were the actual results and while this small unscientific survey doesn't meet the rigors for statistical significance, they correlate nicely to Rahman and Hanafiah's research.

I guessed the patriot, but expected that two of three were teammates. The pragmatist surprised me, which is the point to this article; my preconceived idea of what commitment looks like was broken. I was in action!

The truth is that we are surrounded by teammates, pragmatists and patriots who serve with distinction every day and those who commit to military service, serve equally, whether patriot or pragmatist. Our leadership challenge - that's leaders at all levels - is to avoid falling victim to our own preconceptions and biases and cultivate all who serve as high performing Airmen whether for a single tour, or part of the 10 percent who will make the Air Force a career.