Professional reading benefits all Airmen

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Shane A. Smith
  • 97th Intelligence Squadron commander
As military professionals we have numerous personal and professional responsibilities, a concept unlikely to surprise anyone reading this. Many of these responsibilities, like physical fitness, customs and courtesies, correct wear of the uniform, promotion testing preparation and successfully completing upgrade training, are obvious. However, there are others that tend to get overlooked. One that falls into the latter category stems from the idea that military members, both officer and enlisted, have a duty to maintain a personally directed professional reading regime over the course of their careers and not just at official Professional Military Education events.

The first reaction when the words 'professional reading' are uttered often slew to pained thoughts of dry tomes and copious amounts of caffeine. This stems from a lack of understanding of what professional reading truly consists of. It isn't just PME materials or the Professional Development Guide or the chief of staff's reading list. Although each of these is included in the professional reading category and should be considered foundation items, the genre is much broader.

Fundamentally, every career field requires certain abilities and knowledge, which would be directly enhanced by remaining current and expanding your overall information base. In addition to the Air Force Specialty Code specific items, global awareness also plays a role. Given the Air Force's commitment around the world, expanding your knowledge of virtually any area's history, culture and current situation is beneficial. There is an almost endless list of resources to carry this out consisting of books, magazines, academic journals, on-line think tanks and professional organization publications. This lifelong professional development doesn't have to be dry and boring -- find things you enjoy learning about and take the opportunity to maintain a posture of lifetime learning.

Some will argue that this is strictly the territory of technical experts, contractors, consultants, intelligence personnel, area specialists and senior leaders. Essentially, it's someone else's responsibility. Standard responses center on "I have enough to know and do for tasks day-to-day" or a basic, "I don't have enough time in my lifestyle to read professionally." I believe given all the demands on our time, the fast pace of technological changes, and the advance of globalization that we don't have any other choice, but to make time, if we are to remain relevant and employable.

With professional reading, your ability to provide advice to your supervisors and senior leaders will greatly improve and your value to your organization will rise, which increases your opportunities for advancement. The Air Force needs a workforce that embraces lifelong learning as a lifestyle to carry it into the cauldron of change that lies in the future.

Data cited to me by hiring specialists detail how military members are well ahead of their peers in professional reading during the early portions of their careers; however, this lead seems to fall by the wayside as we get later in our first decade of service. Our civilian peers begin to read more, while we are, as a group, less inclined to continue our pursuit of professional knowledge. In effect, we start off with a strong advantage, but allow that to fritter away. This doesn't have to occur. We need to maintain and expand on this advantage throughout our careers by maintaining a focus on our professional reading needs. It will pay dividends throughout your service in the Air Force and may very well do so after you retire or separate and step out into the civilian workforce.