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Know the competition...

April 20, 2007 -- The saying goes, "Every morning in Africa, an antelope wakes up. It knows it must outrun the lion, or it will be killed. Every morning in Africa, a lion wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the antelope, or it will starve. It doesn't matter whether you're a lion or an antelope -- when the sun comes up, you'd better be running."
It first struck home with me when I had to provide feedback to 15 lieutenants facing the force shaping board. One by one, these eager young officers stepped in my office to hear where they stood in what had now become a fight to determine who stays and who goes. 

The next time it hit me was when four of my best NCOs were identified to cross-train out of their career fields into new specialties. These sharp technical sergeants would have to compete based on their record to get their choice of new jobs. 

Field grade officers submitted "dream sheets" to compete for Intermediate and Senior Development Education. Group commanders were asked to stratify the wing's E-7s and E-8s ... another competition to see who rose to the top. 

It sank in for good when I had to review eight retention recommendation forms for captains facing the Reduction in Force or RIF board. Those who make the choice to stay will rely on their military records to carry the day as they compete to stay "above the line" when the RIF board meets. 

There are two messages here. First, the realities of the world and the needs of the Air Force drive tough decisions impacting our most precious resource - people. Second, in order to remain competitive in the profession, you need to stand out in a crowd of your peers. 

The brutal truth - this is a competitive world. To survive, you must compete. To compete, you must have a record that stands above your peer group. 

In our business, we are most often graded on how we look on paper. How good is your professional record? As I reviewed record after record trying to ensure the USAF keeps its best and brightest, it became clear that those who rose to the top had a common set of attributes beyond a great work record. 

Here is a snapshot of your competition. First, they have completed their professional military education or PME. This is a clean kill. If you have it, you are still in the hunt. If not, you self-eliminate. 

Next, your competition has completed advanced academic work - a master's degree for officers or CCAF degree for NCOs. Without fail, those at the top of the peer group have it. If you haven't done it, start now! 

Another thing that jumps off the page when comparing records is unit involvement. Sure, you've done something to contribute to your flight or squadron. Were you a leader or participant? Did the effort help meet larger wing objectives? Your competitor led the company grade officer council, ran the wing awards ceremony, or headed the Combined Federal Campaign for their unit. Are you in the hunt? 

The record ahead and behind yours at the board shows a sharp Airman who was the squadron NCO of the year or Group CGO of the quarter. What's in your folder? 

Finally, your competition has built Habitat for Humanity homes or led a pack of Cub Scouts for the past year. They have sponsored blood drives or organized a retreat ceremony for local veterans. If you haven't, just realize the peer passing you up has. The competition is pushing the envelope. Did you "wake up running?"