Two of the Air Force’s foundational documents received updates May 6, as the service released new versions of its Blue and Brown Books—“The Profession of Arms: Our Core Values” and “The Enlisted Force Structure,” respectively.
The release of the new texts, which lay down many of the core concepts that shape and define the Air Force, comes as the service faces a pivotal moment, transitioning away from conflict in the Middle East to competition with great powers like China and Russia—a change senior leaders say brings massive stakes that will require some fundamental changes.
As the Air Force looks to its future, it must also revisit some “foundational things that every Airman [needs] to know,” Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force JoAnne S. Bass told Air Force Magazine.
“In order for us to have talented Airmen that we need in the Air Force of 2030, we can’t just … walk through the motions and haphazardly get after stuff and update as needed,” Bass told Air Force Magazine. “We need to be deliberate about every single thing that we’re doing.”
She added, “There were some foundational things that we have to get back to, in my mind, the basics … And in the same sense, there is a lot of aspiration and futures and design-thinking and talk in this document that will help us get after our Air Force really being forward-thinking for the long game.”
The new Books are available now online, and according to a Facebook post from Bass, physical copies are being ordered for all new accessions, professional military education centers, and combat aviation advisors. Commands will also receive details on how to get hard copies, Bass added.
In the mid 1990s, the Air Force was struggling “in the wake of several … ethical and moral challenges.” In 1994, a pair of F-15s shot down two Army helicopters in a tragic case of friendly fire, killing 26 service members and civilians. A little over a month later, there was a highly publicized fatal B-52 crash partially blamed on leadership failing to discipline a reckless pilot. Readiness seemed to be in decline, raising fears of a “hollow force.”
Looking to revitalize the force, Chief of Staff Gen. Ronald R. Fogleman turned to Gen. Billy J. Boles, head of Air Education and Training Command. Together, they identified and codified three core values—integrity, service, and excellence. Those values, and the principles behind them, formed the basis for a slim pamphlet distributed throughout the force that came to be known as the “Little Blue Book.”
The Little Blue Book is itself an evolution of Air Force Regulation 30-1, “Air Force Standards,” released in 1983. And as the years passed, the book has continued to evolve, ranging from more than 35 pages to less than 15.
The 2022 Blue Book is 16 pages and shares certain fundamentals with previous versions, including the Airman’s Creed, the Code of Conduct, and the Air Force Oaths. It also shares the same core values: Integrity First, Service Before Self, and Excellence In All We Do.
There are, however, several tweaks. Included in the new version is a paragraph in the introduction reiterating that Airmen have a responsibility to not engage in or tolerate “harassment, sexual assault, sexual harassment, stalking, bullying, extremism, and discrimination,” as they run contrary to the core values.
This addition is in line with one of the recommendations from the Independent Review Commission on Sexual Assault in the Military that was accepted by Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III.
The new Blue Book also adds a section under the core value of Integrity First, highlighting the importance of humility.
“A person of integrity grasps and is sobered by the extraordinary task of defending the Constitution of the United States,” the new paragraph reads. “We practice humility by putting others before ourselves. We seek to add value through community and humanitarian support. We serve with gratitude and without arrogance.”
The revision also includes a new section detailing four reasons why the core values are articulated and recognized:
- Tell us the price of admission to the Air Force itself;
- Point to what is universal and unchanging in the Profession of Arms;
- Help us get a fix on the ethical climate of an organization;
- Serve as beacons vectoring us back to the path of professional conduct.
The new Blue Book closes with the Air Force’s new mission statement, released in 2021: “To fly, fight, and win … Air power anytime, anywhere.”
Gone from this update is a section included in the 2015 version titled “Respect.” However, references to respect are scattered throughout the document, including an expanded section under “Service Before Self.” All told, the word “respect” is used 26 times, compared to 15 times in the 2015 version.
For years now, alongside the Little Blue Book has been the Little Brown Book, or as it is formally known, Air Force Instruction 36-2618, “The Enlisted Force Structure.” Distributed to Airmen at Basic Military Training, the handbook spells out the “professional standards and roles and responsibilities for each enlisted rank,” laying down the structure that governs more than 265,000 enlisted Airmen.
The new Brown Book is 28 pages, and like the new Blue Book, shares some similarities with its predecessors, including a description of the expectations and duties for each rank and enlisted tier—junior Airmen, noncommissioned officers, and senior noncommissioned officers.
It also carries over descriptions of specific enlisted positions like First Sergeant, Senior Enlisted Leader, and Career Field Manager, and breaks down “career-broadening opportunities” like recruiter, AFROTC Training Instructor, Professional Military Education instructor and Curriculum Developer, and Airmen Development Advisors.
However, the new Brown Book includes expanded sections detailing the Air Force’s core missions, the Air Force Speciality Codes, and the concept of multi-capable Airmen—a key part of the Air Force’s new Agile Combat Employment Concept.
The update also links back to the Blue Book by including the Airman’s Creed, the oath of enlistment, and the core values. It too emphasizes that all Airmen have a responsibility to help foster “a culture of respect and trust,” and adds sections on teamwork, leadership, and “followership.”
The publication also includes a new chapter dedicated to the Air Force’s 24 foundational competencies and 10 Airman Leadership Qualities, which will form the basis for the service’s feedback, evaluation, and development.
The ALQs, in particular, “represent the performance characteristics we want to define, develop, incentivize, and measure in our Airmen,” Lt. Gen. Brian T. Kelly, deputy chief of staff for manpower, personnel, and services, said in a recent Air Force release.
They include job proficiency, initiative, adaptability, inclusion and teamwork, emotional intelligence, communication, stewardship, accountability, decision making, and innovation, and including them in the document that defines the DNA of the enlisted force is a natural fit. But it’s not just enlisted Airmen who will need to study the ALQs.
“I think I’m as equally excited as you are with this synergy idea, this idea that when we evaluate Airmen, we’re going to use these things that [Chief of Staff] Gen. [Charles Q.] Brown helped us coin as Airmen Leadership Qualities,” Kelly told Bass during a virtual Coffee Talk in June 2021. “Not officer leadership qualities, not enlisted leadership qualities, they’re Airmen Leadership Qualities. … Those were developed both from our Air Force foundational competencies that our Air Education and Training Command produces, but also with an eye towards the future.”
As Air Force leaders continue to push for modernization across the force, Bass has been vocal in her belief that that push can’t just be about equipment.
“While our pacing threats might be modernizing pretty fast, the one competitive advantage that we have that nobody else has is our people,” Bass said. “And that is what consistently makes us the best, and we can’t take that for granted. We’ve got to continue to hone in on that, capitalize on that, modernize some of our pieces and processes that might not otherwise allow us to keep the best talent in our Air Force.”
In support of that goal, the new Blue and Brown Books are just the latest development. Two weeks ago, the Air Force released “The Blueprint,” a 32-page “living” document intended to be a resource and reference for enlisted Airmen throughout their careers, presenting essential information on everything from Air Force Specialty Codes to different programs Airmen can tap into when leaving the service.
Bass calls it a “cradle-to-grave blueprint on an Airman’s career,” noting its also an objective under the Enlisted Force Development Action Plan. Having all these new documents, intended to be foundational and released in close succession, is all part of the plan.
“We’ve got to think about the long game, and we have to play the long game,” Bass said. “And if we’re going to tap the Airmen that we need, whether it’s 2030, 2035, 2040, it has to be deliberate. Because it’s just not gonna happen any other way, unless we really have some strategy and we really get after the action piece on focusing on and synergizing all the different great efforts that we’re doing to develop our Airmen of today.”
There’s still one more foundational document to come—the “Purple Book.” As detailed in the Action Plan, the Purple Book will include “values, capabilities, and warfighting concepts of the Joint Force team and [connect] Air Force doctrine to the Department of Defense purpose and mission.”
The Air Force’s push to tie itself more deeply to the Joint Force has been underway for years now—the vision of a tightly integrated joint force was perhaps the defining legacy of former Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein. And the Purple Book, targeted for release this summer, will look to identify, codify, and develop the different ways Airmen can further that goal.
“Our team will work with the J7 [joint force development] to help develop a Purple Book that will be focused on how do we develop the joint leaders that we need, that are able to talk joint, train joint, and to some degree, understand and integrate more and have the synergies that we need with our brothers and sisters from the other services,” Bass said.