The Air Force’s top enlisted airman has been busy this spring, rolling out a set of guides that more clearly define the enlisted corps’ modern role and prioritizing their personal growth.
“This is about deliberately defining the future of our Air Force, while still keeping sight of the rich heritage and core values that built the world’s greatest Air Force,” Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force JoAnne Bass wrote in a Facebook post on Friday.
Bass, the 19th person and first woman to reach the Air Force’s highest noncommissioned officer job, advises its four-star chief of staff and civilian secretary on the force’s welfare, readiness and morale. Nearly 410,000 enlisted airmen currently serve in the Air Force, including almost 262,000 on active duty.
Three new documents have come out within the past three weeks, starting April 22 with an enlisted force development “blueprint,” a 32-page compilation of basic information about the Air Force, the larger organizations it serves and professional development resources.
It’s a tool for airmen and their supervisors alike.
“The blueprint consolidates resources otherwise populated in various electronic locations to highlight pathways, resources and opportunities for all airmen to be successful during their career,” Bass said in an April 22 release.
On Friday, the service also dropped new versions of “The Enlisted Force Structure” and “The Profession of Arms: Our Core Values,” commonly known as the “Brown Book” and “Blue Book.” The booklets have long been a handy mentorship resource in plenty of supervisors’ back pockets, though others are quick to poke fun at them as useful kindling.
The Brown Book discusses the skills airmen should cultivate as they rise through the ranks and take on new responsibilities, portraying them as jacks of all trades for the modern military. It also lays out expectations for a high standard of character and the need for “trust, respect and inclusion” — especially in leadership positions, the Air Force said.
New revisions to the “Blue Book” delve into the foundations of what it means to be an airman, including the oaths of service and code of conduct. Notably, it points out that sexual harassment and assault violate the service’s core values, and warns against stalking, bullying, political or ideological extremism and discrimination.
“What hasn’t changed, is every airman’s responsibility to inspire others, set an example through personal conduct and promote leadership and accountability across our force,” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles “CQ” Brown Jr. said in Friday’s release.
All new enlistees will get a hard-copy version of the books when they join the Air Force. The service is ordering those copies now, and will also send them to special operations combat air advisers and to professional military schools like the Noncommissioned Officer Academy.
“All airmen need to have a copy of these foundational documents,” Bass wrote. “Read them, understand them and incorporate them into your daily lives.”
A “Purple Book” on joint warfare is set to debut this summer as well to illustrate the Air Force’s place in the Pentagon’s larger picture.
The Air Force said it is also working on an update to how it prepares new supervisors to manage their airmen and creating a standardized Air Force writing guide — which may come in handy while ditching bullet-style performance reviews — by December 2023.
Though instructive, the documents are one piece of Bass’s much loftier goals for bringing enlisted airmen into the 21st century. Among them, she supports moving promotion tests online rather than continuing paper exams, is overhauling how enlisted airmen find and apply for future jobs and is spearheading a new look at Air Force professional military education.
The updates earned high praise from some and eye rolls from others on social media. As one meme from Reddit user samuraijoker put it:
“You want pay increase to match 18% inflation and [basic housing allowance] to match crazy housing market? Best I can do is a new copy of the Little Brown Book.”
Rachel Cohen is the editor of Air Force Times. She joined the publication as its senior reporter in March 2021. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Frederick News-Post (Md.), Air and Space Forces Magazine, Inside Defense, Inside Health Policy and elsewhere.