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Put your mask on first then assist others around you

Posted 7/25/2008   Updated 7/25/2008 Email story   Print story


by Maj. Michael T. Clancy
Commander, 18th Component Maintenance Squadron

7/25/2008 - KADENA AB, Japan -- Earlier this month, I had my first commander's call. Following the advice of others, I took the time to share with my new squadron my ideas on how we should conduct ourselves as airmen. One of the things I told my squadron was in their day-to-day activities they should always "put their mask on first then assist others around them." Being military and thus a frequent flyer, you probably recognize the quote from the airlines in-flight safety briefing: "In the event of the loss of cabin pressure an oxygen mask will drop down. Please put your mask on first...." I have used this quote in the past, but as I was flying to the PACAF Commanders' Course, it again caught my attention. For me, it is a simple way to describe how we should act in order to be strong contributors to the success of the Air Force. 

The idea of "Putting your mask on first" means several things. First of all, learn your job. Excel in your understanding of what you are doing and why it has to be done. Work at becoming better at your assigned task each day. 

Secondly, you need to develop your skills as a leader. From your second day in the military, you outranked someone and thus could have been called on to lead. Leadership challenges, throughout your career, will range in scope and size. Therefore, we must develop our leadership skills so each of us is prepared for the test of today and to take the opportunities that will come in the future. In addition, the senior leaders of tomorrow are currently working in the Air Force today. For them, we must demonstrate leadership and military professionalism consistently and constantly. This will enable them to develop the character to make the tough decisions, to enforce standards on a small and large scale and to lead in the future. 

Lastly, "putting your mask on first" involves taking care of your health and your family. Use diet and exercise to develop yourself physically into the person you want to spend the rest of your life with. With this in mind, your preparation for fitness tests should become like prepping for an ORI. Daily, you will maintain a steady state capability where at anytime you can easily pass. When it comes time for your actual fitness test, you ramp up in order to score your personal best! This strategy allows you to be ready for the everyday demands of your job and the unexpected demands of deployments, while increasing the quality of your life for you and your family. 

Speaking of family, my advice to you is to find out what matters to the people that are important to you and make that your priority. Learn the skills you need to make their life better. This is not easy, but it is certainly worth the effort. I have learned early on that you can't do everything, however if you are working on the things that are important to them, it will seem like you are getting everything done. 

Once you have put your mask on, you must "assist others around you!" As you grow and develop your skills, use every opportunity to assist and develop people around you. In fact, we should be looking for daily chances to help others and thus work toward an organization composed of people focused on each other's success. Because we learn infinitely more from watching each other than we do from what we are told, we should always demonstrate the behavior we expect from our subordinates, peers, and even from our leaders. Be especially sensitive to situations where you have the necessary skills for success. When these opportunities arise, step forward, lead, follow, coach, advise, and/or support. In essence, do whatever is necessary to help others work through situations successfully. 

After presenting this idea to my squadron, one of the questions I was asked was "doesn't this idea contradict the core value of Service before Self?" I answered that question with another question, "If I'm drowning and you can't swim, what good is it for you to jump in after me?" In order to practice service before self, you have to have a service to offer (meaning you have to have something to give) and you have to want to give it. So start now "put your mask on first then assist others around you!"

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