Calling all millennials: Fight for your reputation

(U.S. Air Force graphic/Senior Airman Chip Pons)

(U.S. Air Force graphic/Senior Airman Chip Pons)

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO, RANDOLPH--TEXAS -- As the debate over a massive generational gap within the military becomes more prevalent, members within different generational groups should pause and consider what each contributes to mission success, rather than what makes one better than the other.

Yes, I am technically a millennial; however, I am so much more than that and I do not take pride in being associated with the negative stigmas of my youth. I am a husband, son and friend. I have faced obstacles and set-backs unique to only me. I have loved, grieved, failed and succeeded.

But first and foremost, I am an American Airman - a wingman, leader and warrior.

As the next generation of the Air Force, millennials need to fully embrace the legacy and heritage that comes with wearing the uniform. Regardless of age, customs and courtesies go a long way, as do professionalism, mutual respect and integrity.

Instead of labeling us, teach us. Find ways to use our strengths to the advantage of the new Air Force. 

Multiple generations of Airmen currently make up the United States Air Force, and much like our varying backgrounds, religious preferences, sexual orientations and races, our generational gap should be seen as an asset, not a hindrance. 

There have been articles by several publications during the past few years criticizing millennials. A recent article in Military Times stated, “Are younger service members - so called ‘millennials,’ born in 1980 or later – soft? Are they too reliant on technology? Are they buried so deep in social media that face-to-face communication becomes impossible? Are they too busy questioning orders to follow them?” While this excerpt was used to highlight the plethora of complaints regarding my generation, as a millennial, it’s one of many that I’ve seen and I take offense to this thought. I am proud to be competent with, but never reliant upon technology. 

As a photojournalist, I thrive on having the newest technologies at my fingertips. The quality of my job performance hinges on it, and as our world races toward more technological advancements, it is imperative that I stay up-to-date so that I can continue to evolve with them.

I know the difference between indulging in social media and using it to my advantage. 

The way we use the internet is changing. Statistics can be drawn from following certain hashtags, trends and posts. Why wouldn’t we, as the world’s greatest air, space and cyber space force utilize various social media platforms to share the Air Force story? 

Last year, Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James A. Cody spoke at the Air Force Association Air and Space Conference and Technology Exposition, and stated that senior leaders must learn about the younger generation as people, what they bring to the table and leverage it as though there were no tomorrow.

“Whatever that next generation is, they’re going to be better than the generation before them,” Cody said. “We’re going to give them better tools; they’re going to come out better – and if they don’t, then we have failed.” 

Growing up, my family instilled in me the idea that each generation stands upon the shoulders of those before them. We work as hard as we do and strive for excellence in all we do so that future generations of Airmen can serve in a better Air Force. 

This work ethic has been passed down to me by various mentors throughout my career, and it is something that I, as a millennial, urge my peers to take seriously. 

Only we are responsible for the reputation that we currently hold. As the Air Force continues to get smaller as each year passes and recent changes to the promotion system take effect, showing that we are more than a stigma is as important as ever. Acknowledge that there is much to be learned from seasoned generations of Airmen and use their mentorship to excel your career to the next level. 

While our natural inclination may be to do things “our” way, recognize that we have an opportunity, on both sides of the spectrum, to learn from one another. In doing so, the strength of our Airmen and our Air Force will be tested and challenged, but we will walk away stronger than ever.