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At the Fulcrum of Air Force Identity: Balancing the Internal and External Pressures of Image and Culture

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Air War College School of Advanced Air and Space Studies Maxwell AFB United States

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Todays Air Force is experiencing an institutional identity crisis that places it at an historical nadir of confidence, reputation, and influence, wrote Thomas Ehrhard in his 2009 work for the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments entitled An Air Force Strategy for the Long Haul. His assertion is not newit has been made often enough since the end of the Cold War that it has become trite. This thesis explores the roots of the Air Forces identity problems by applying a theoretical construct to explain why many previous identity initiatives have been so startlingly unsuccessful. The paper concludes that senior Air Force leaders have failed, in part, because of their disregard for the powerful roles that organizational cultures play in the day-to-day lives of the average Airman. The Air Force chief of staff that hopes to achieve a measure of success in shaping the future of the force will have to find the appropriate balance between the Air Forces external image and its internal culture. Among the other military services within the Department of Defense, the top Airman will have to make sense of the paradoxical mandates to cooperate to win the nations wars while simultaneously competing for scarce resources in a zero-sum Washington, DC, budget battle. The Chief that turns the corner will have to find an acceptable and durable equilibrium among the many organizational Air Force subcultures, and in particular, should consider ways to redefine the organization to achieve a more equitable power-sharing arrangement among the tribes. In the end, this leader will only be truly successful by discovering and communicating an emergent sense of Airman culture that resonates throughout the rank-and-file. Moving beyond the Air Forces WHAT and HOW, Airmen must be inspired with a clear and compelling WHY.

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