By Staff Sgt. C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (July 26, 2002) -- Air Force senior leaders are confident in the ability of young airmen to fit in and perform in today’s Air Force, even if they look and dress differently than in years passed.
While multicolored hair, unusual dress, tattoos or piercings may be off-putting to some, the Air Force’s two top leaders said in an interview taped for the Aug. 5 edition of Air Force Television News that they believe this new generation possesses the potential to become quality airmen.
“I go to Lackland (Air Force Base, Texas) from time to time, and I look at these youngsters,” said Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. John P. Jumper. “You see the same scene almost every time: a newly admitted airman in his bright new blue uniform, standing in front of his mother saying, ‘Yes, Mom, it is me.’”
“(Then) the dad (says), ‘It can't be you. You looked like a kid who fell down the stairs with his tackle box in his hand when I left you off, and now look at you. You're standing up tall and straight. You're saying ma'am and sir. You're respectful. Who is this? What have you done with my kid?’”
Some of those tall-standing airmen faced some tough challenges growing up but have now found a home with the Air Force, Jumper said.
“You go around and talk to these youngsters; many of them come from backgrounds that are not something I can identify with,” Jumper said. “When you ask them about themselves, they'll tell you, ‘Somebody took me by the earlobe and pushed me toward the Air Force, and it saved my life. I was on a slippery slope. I was in this terrible situation. I was going nowhere. I was ruined. I had no potential.’
“People will tell you, ‘This is the first time anybody's ever told me they're proud of what I did. My training instructor handed me a coin and called me an airman. I'm so proud of what I'm doing. For the first time my parents are proud of me,’” Jumper recalled.
That diversity of background and circumstance of new, incoming airmen may very well be what makes the force so strong, said Secretary of the Air Force Dr. James G. Roche.
“Our airmen look like America: a lot of young men, a lot of young girls, black Americans, Asian-Americans, all kinds of Americans. It's just terrific,” Roche said. “It makes you realize that if we draw on everybody in this country, the whole population, we are probably going to be unbeatable for a long, long time.”
There should be no fear that today’s young people, whoever they may be or wherever they may have come from, are not going to be able to serve their Air Force as well as those that came before them, Jumper said.
“I tell the older audiences I talk to, the World War II generation, (to) have faith,” Jumper said. “You think this is…the generation that was raised to not respect anything or to disrespect everything. But when you go out there and you expose them to a little pride, a little motivation, and some strong leadership, human nature takes over. Once you experience that pride you never turn back.