Are you an Air Commando?

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Brett A. DeAngelis
  • 1st Special Operations Group Detachment 2 Commander
Defining an Air Commando can be a challenge. Some Air Commando career fields require physical strength and stamina, while others demand technical expertise but minimal physical skills. Medics, pilots, logisticians and personnelists have very different daily functions, but all can be Air Commandos. So what is the common acquired skill that turns Airmen into Air Commandos? What defines a proud legacy that reaches back through the Chindits and Doolittle Raiders? Part of being an Air Commando is defined by a mental outlook, enabling mission accomplishment.

An Air Commando’s focus on mission accomplishment means the words “Any Time, Any Place” will not ring hollow when we say them. America knows we will be there “Anytime, Anyplace.” The Air Commando’s focus on mission accomplishment means that we have the guts to try – no matter how hard the challenge, I can count on you and you can count on me when we need it most.

Professionally, I grew up in the Air Commando culture, as I’ve been assigned to Air Force Special Operations Command since completing my initial training. As a young Airman, I didn’t really understand what was being said when my leadership would speak about being an Air Commando. I thought I wore the patch and was issued cool gear, so that must be it. I understood even less when the base would host Air Force senior leaders who often commented on how impressed they were with the “mission focus” at the base. What could other Air Force bases possibly be focused on if it wasn’t the mission? After spending 15 years in this command, I’ve matured and now feel I have a better understanding of what it means to be an Air Commando. Specifically, I can better define what a “mental outlook that enables mission accomplishment” looks like.

First, an Air Commando is a professional who has mastered his or her task. Part of this mastery is an understanding of the instructions and procedures that bind you on a daily basis. You comprehend the left and right limits of your governing directives, their underlying intent and you know the “why” behind a limit or procedure.

Second, an Air Commando is able to put risk management to practical use. You know how to identify hazards, which enables you to avoid unnecessary risks while mitigating unavoidable risks. You also understand what risks you can accept at your level and which risks should be elevated up your chain of command to be approved and alleviated by a higher authority.

Finally, you’ve fully become an Air Commando when you utilize critical thinking and blend professional competency with risk management to know when non-compliance is the answer needed for mission accomplishment. Do not assume that I mean Air Commandos ignore the rules to get the job done – that is foolish and lazy. Instead, Air Commandos know their jobs so well, and comprehend the rational and intent behind the rules, that they are able to recognize when their duty places them in situations where the current rules may not be the best answer, or times where their duty puts them in a situation that has no established guidance.

You know who “owns” the rule and to what level and time non-compliance must be reported. The true Air Commando is able to recognize their non-compliance, fully explain it with sound judgment and risk-manage it at the appropriate level. In other situations, the Air Commando is able to create ad hoc guidance where none previously existed, while properly reporting and risk managing it. I would like to stress these are not daily occurrences or even common occurrences. Compliance is ingrained in all of us as Airmen, but, when in a dynamic situation where the task may be poorly defined or mission accomplishment is in peril, Air Commandos will find a way.

An Air Commando’s focus on mission accomplishment is seen daily when a battlefield Airman is able to use guts and ingenuity to get his team out of a dangerous firefight, a maintenance team fixes a “red ball” that is holding up a gunship alert launch on a combat mission, or when an intelligence analyst is able to fuse multiple sources to complete the puzzle on the enemy’s intent. These are situations that impress others on our “mission focus,” but areas an Air Commando would probably just see as doing their job.

No matter your job and skill set, you can be an Air Commando, but, it takes more than just being assigned to a squadron with “special operations” in the title. It takes training, discipline, maturity and intellect focused through a lens of mission accomplishment. It took me a while to figure out the real meaning, but I’m proud to be an Air Commando. I hope you are too.