Discover what motivates your Airmen

Lt. Col. Greg Cyrus, 821st Contingency Response Support Squadron commander, poses for his official photo. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Lt. Col. Greg Cyrus, 821st Contingency Response Support Squadron commander, poses for his official photo. (U.S. Air Force photo)


TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- This Sunday marks the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, carried out by Al-Qaeda, against the United States. The attacks killed nearly 3,000 people from over 90 nations.  Although military recruitment did not overwhelmingly surge in the years following 9/11, ask any Airman, Soldier, Sailor, Marine, or Coast Guardsman, who enlisted shortly after, and I’ll bet most of them link those tragic events to their motivations for joining the military. 

Fifteen years later, and only about three years short of enlistees being born post-9/11, those reasons are probably different now.  I don’t doubt family tradition, a sense of patriotism, educational benefits, or traveling the world have dropped from the top 10 list, but I imagine most no longer invoke the events of 9/11 as their catalyst for enlisting.  

Therefore, I ask, do you know what motivates your Airmen?  How well do you know those you supervise or lead?  Are you utilizing the Airman Comprehensive Assessment because it’s required, or are you using it to open communication between the Airman and yourself, as it’s intended to be used?  Can you possibly understand their career goals and put your Airmen, and the unit, on a successful path without understanding what motivates them, personally and professionally? 

During mentoring or feedback sessions with Airmen, I always attempt to ask, have you joined the Air Force yet?  When I get blank stares from them, I explain to them my personal motivations for joining the Air Force and how I interpret the core value of service before self.

I never lived a day in my life more than 10 miles away from a military base. I was a “brat,” an Air Force “brat” to be precise. The Air Force was all I ever knew. I bleed Air Force blue. I went to college and entered the Air Force through the R.O.T.C program.  But I quickly came to realize, after four years into my military service, and shortly after 9/11, that I truly hadn’t joined the Air Force, yet. 

Up to that point in my Air Force career, it was more about myself and less about the Airman I was empowered to supervise and lead.  All of a sudden, less than 30 days after 9/11, and what became my first overseas deployment, I found myself supporting the efforts to liberate Afghanistan from the Taliban.  During that deployment, I realized I had finally joined the Air Force.  Not because I deployed, but because the mission I was tasked to perform, and the men and women who stood beside or depended on me, mattered more now than my personal desires. 

No doubt, the Oath of Enlistment or Office gets you into the best Air Force in the world, but to encourage evolution and growth in Airmen, both Airmen and their supervisors should strive to be open and honest about motivations.  Once those are identified, aim to incorporate all motivational factors into a positive motivational environment.

Strive to identify selfish desires and mentor Airmen appropriately, if needed. Encourage them to “join the Air Force.”  By doing so, supervisors and leaders can tailor leadership styles, improve their ability to inspire and mentor Airmen effectively to bring out the best in our Airmen.