The whole person concept is a term I heard my entire career, but it wasn't something I began to understand until I successfully made it through both my OTS and E-7 selection boards. A lot of people think being a whole person means doing the things or checking the blocks on the checklist of your career, but there is so much more to it than that. Simply checking the blocks will result in a hollow shell of your record and the board will see right through it. Put simply, being the epitome of the whole person concept means just that. Being a whole, complete person who excels at every aspect of life and makes a deliberate effort to make a difference. Here is my story.
Never abandon your duties at work so you can volunteer. It's okay to volunteer during duty hours, but don't be the person who is always gone when things are happening or any time something needs to be done at work. To your coworkers, you will the impression that all you care about is yourself or making the next rank.
You need to strive to be the best of the best among your peers before you start doing anything outside of work. Be known for being the person who willingly accepts all tasks, performs them to the best of your ability, asks for help when needed, and always comes to work with a positive attitude. You may not think these things matter, but they do. You don't always need to be the best, but you need to be known for always trying to be the best. If you do all of these things on a consistent basis, people will notice.
Your leadership has a ton of control of who gets the opportunities for success. Have you ever noticed that the same people often get to meet the random General who comes to visit, or eat lunch with the base commander? That is because leadership is asked who should go and they submit a name. They are not going to pick Joe Dirtbag because it would reflect poorly on the flight or squadron, and it may appear to reward incompetence or negative attitudes. Leadership will pick the best and brightest and put them in a position to shine. This is why doing your job well and always having a positive attitude matters. Being the best is rewarded with more opportunities for success, which will lead to recognition, which will lead to awards, which will lead to the "Promote Now" EPR ratings or official Decorations, which will lead to great board scores. It is all tied together.
Making a Difference in the Community
Everyone places so much emphasis on "volunteering" that they forget about making a difference, and focus instead on the number of hours or obtaining the high profile volunteer opportunities. "Volunteering" is about quantity: How many times can I devote X hours to Y organizations to move Z pounds of food or impact Z people. Making a difference in the community is about quality: How can I get involved in my community in a way which makes it better for everyone? In what areas does my community need to improve? In what ways can I use my specific set of skills to impact and improve my community? Those are the questions you should be asking yourself.
At the beginning of my career I did a lot of volunteering for whatever was out there. As a young Airman this included Airman Against Drunk Driving (AADD), Meals on Wheels, or helping out at the local fair. After a while, I my volunteer efforts started to feel empty and hollow. Sure, I was helping people and those are all great programs, but I wanted to have a larger impact. As I began to ponder how to make this happen, I sought leadership positions in the same types of activities. I became the treasurer for my squadron's booster club. I became the AADD scheduler instead of just a driver. I was one of the few missile field food planning board members in my squadron and actively worked to improve food in the missile field. Such positions had a slightly larger impact, but I still wanted more.
Time to Grow Up: Education
Sewing on SSgt and PCSing gave me an opportunity to redirect my focus inward. Instead of continuing to do the same types of volunteer work I did at my previous assignment, I considered how I could become a more effective person and what was holding me back from making the impact I wanted to. As a "Whole Person", what was I missing? Eventually, I came to the realization that I needed to finish my Bachelor's degree. That became my goal for my four year tour overseas.
Working on my degree helped me do a lot of growing up. I knew I wanted a degree in the IT field, but what major did I want to choose? I spent hours researching the different types of IT jobs in the private sector and narrowed my degree choices down to Computer Science and Information System Management. I discovered the difference between the two was one focused on the technical aspects of the field (CS) while the other focused on the use of technology in business (ISM). I realized I didn't like the technical side nearly as much as I thought I did, so I chose to pursue the business degree. This ended up being a decision that has continued to help me, even today. My coursework focused on leadership vs. management, so I learned how to apply both in my life as a supervisor and NCOIC. I learned how everything revolves around money which helped me apply my prior Resource Advisor experience into achieving the current organizational goals. My English classes helped me as I authored security regulations and edited publications in our Plans and Programs section. My education literally rippled through every aspect of my life and helped me understand how I fit into the bigger picture of both my professional life and local community.
While I was working on my degree I continued to master my duties at work and volunteer, although my mindset for volunteering had changed. I was invited into a long term volunteer commitment in which our small group sang the national anthems for almost all of the official ceremonies on the base. This was great for my situation because it was high visibility, and had a limited time commitment. I also felt like I was really making a difference because the local nationals were often in tears, and we received regular, heartfelt thanks from retirees or incoming/outgoing commanders. I began to see how my efforts directly impacted the entire base and local community, not just me or my squadron.
Once I finished my overseas tour I had a fairly accomplished career and a wide range of experience/expertise. Both my overseas tour and next assignment further developed my professional experience by giving me the opportunity to support Combatant Commands defending our homeland and contingency flying operations overseas. This experience further broadened my professional experience. I believe it was the final piece I needed before I was ready to pursue and obtain a commission.
I don't want to gloss over the importance of diversity. When I was a young Airman, I asked one of my mentors how to be successful in the Air Force. We were actually sitting in an ice fishing hut, freezing cold, and NOT catching any fish, but the advice he gave me became the framework for which I structured the rest of my career. He told me I should always seek to further diversify my career experience. He told me of the five tiers of the Security Forces career field (Admin, Intel, Ops, Training, Plans and Programs), and told me I should seek jobs and be excellent in every tier. I took this to heart and incorporated this concept into every major decision I made in both my personal and professional career.
Special duties can help you achieve this goal, but they are not the be-all end-all. If you have done most of the jobs in your career field it may be time for a special duty. If you have very limited experience in your career field, special duties may actually hurt you. While you are out of your career field, you will no longer develop professionally in the field for which you will compete for most of your ranks. The other thing to think about is most special duties are 3-4 year controlled tours. During my career, I changed jobs every 1-2 years. Changing jobs more often helps you more effectively diversify your experience (look at the officer corps.)
A lot of people also believe deployments are the be-all end-all to making the next rank. To be clear, I have never deployed. One of the things I believe deployments help you do is experience the operations side of the Air Force. When I was overseas my base was tasked with enforcing a no fly zone in another country. Fighter jets from all over the world used our base as a forward deployed location. We had representation from almost every branch and several different countries. When the fighters were ready to go MUNS would load them to the brim with munitions, they would drop their ordinance, and they would come back empty. During that time the only thing that mattered was getting bombs on target. Every squadron worked 24/7 and we all helped each other out so we could better support the mission. We asked comm for another SIPR computer and they brought us a computer, a switch, and two extra computers. Our guys were stuck on the flightline due to a structure vulnerability so FSS brought out a truckload of MREs. It was incredible. Based on my limited experience, deployments and contingencies are where it happens. Experiencing a deployment or contingency will teach you the importance of the mission, and will realign your perspective toward the joint or combatant command environment.
Tying it All Together - Documentation
Having a diverse career and being excellent in every aspect of your life is how you build your foundation, but it all means nothing if you can't convey yourself to the board. How you do this will largely depend on the board you are competing in. For OTS, the OTS Applicant Profile is hands down, the most important Whole Person Concept document. The only other documents the board will see is your CC's recommendation and the Letter of Recommendation. How much does that really tell the board about who you are as a person? Promotion and quarterly/annual award boards are much easier because everything is limited to specific forms and formats.
Here is my perception of diversity within my OTS Applicant Profile. Reference my blog post here.
- Decent AFOQT scores, above average GPA.
- Degrees in both IT and criminal justice.
- More PME complete than the bare minimum.
- Awards ranging from squadron to NAF-level consistently awarded over ten years.
- Volunteers for non-profits, county, church, and base in multiple capacities while also graduating college with honors.
- Personal interests ranging from church, athletic, recreational, educational, and mentorship.
- Career experience in QA/Stan/Eval, combatant command operations, security, supervision, Security Forces operations, and Command and Control.
- "Craftsman" of two AFSCs.
- Excessive speeding tickets in early life.
- Career choices ranging from ops, intelligence, and finance (acquisitions and contracting).
In my opinion, that is how the board perceived me when they reviewed the first four pages of my application. Page 5 (Page 6 of AF56) was my commander's summary of my professional experience and how it could tie to the officer side, and Page 6 was my supervisor's perspective of me from the whole person perspective (Letter of Recommendation).