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The importance of recognizing superior performers

  • Published
  • By Maj. Hamilton Underwood
  • 4th Combat Camera Squadron commander
Recognition is a fundamental human need. It then follows recognizing Airmen is fundamental responsibility of leadership because taking care of Airmen is a leader’s priority.

As the adage goes, if a leader takes care of the people, the people will take care of the mission.

Recognition in the Air Force can be both formal and informal. Medals are an important way to formally recognize Airmen. There are many medals and ribbons an Airman may be eligible to receive during their career.

The most regularly earned medals are those for achievement, commendation and meritorious service which an Airman is eligible for, grade dependent, every three years under the auspicious of extended tour. These medals are submitted and awarded by an Airman’s home unit. Ideally, eligible Airmen would receive a medal every three years.

Taking into account operations tempo, this ideal can be difficult to meet. There’s also quarterly awards programs and the yearly external awards programs as well. These are vital programs that provide deserved recognition and as a byproduct provide excellent material for medals. All of these avenues of formal recognition should be pursued, and every squadron needs a point of contact to vigorously monitor these opportunities.

However, the submission processes and the lag time before delivery with most formal recognition opportunities creates the perfect space for the immediacy of informal recognition. Recognition for a job well done at a commander’s call is one method and being coined is always appreciated. But some squadron commanders have introduced peer-to-peer recognition programs often called on-the-spot (OTS) awards.

In this informal program, anyone in the unit can present anyone one else with an OTS award. The presentation is done at commander’s call. Usually the Airman who submitted the OTS award reads what they wrote on the certificate and presents the award. The certificate itself is best if it’s produced at the squadron level customized with the unit and wing patch.

The OTS award has several advantages. It’s immediate. Something that happened on the Unit Training Assembly (UTA) or during temporary duty (TDY) is immediately captured and recognized rather than being lost in the tumult. What’s recognized is often an accomplishment that squadron leadership may be unaware of because it was likely something that happened behind the scenes.

This provides leadership a unique perspective into their unit. Often those recognized are the quiet performers quintessential to every squadron that can be easily overlooked. If a quiet performer consistently is recognized by their peers it provides insight into who the most effective leaders really are. From a practical stand point, OTS awards provide Airman and their supervisors with excellent material for feedback session and in writing evaluations. Lastly, OTS awards help create an environment in which Airmen feel important and appreciated, and when you take care of Airmen, they take care of the mission.