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Why do our military service members ask to volunteer?

Why do our military service members ask to volunteer?

Why do our military services ask us to volunteer? While some reasons are obvious, others might not be so apparent. In fact, those reasons may be just as important, if not more so. The most basic reason is we're members of both a military and a civilian community and, just like any citizen, we need to contribute to each of those communities. We need to be active and participate in our community, even if we're only going to be stationed there for a short period of time.

Participation includes working and contributing economically, helping to ensure safety and security, and also serving through volunteering. We citizens can make a very big and positive impact on our community through volunteering. And for military members volunteering in the local civilian community, it helps strengthen the relationship between the two communities. A relationship of mutual support is critical to the well-being and strength of both communities. But community service is just the first reason we should volunteer.

Helping others is often the focus of volunteering and justifiably so. But have you asked yourself, "How does volunteering benefit me?"

It's not an intuitive question, because it appears to be a selfish one which seemingly contradicts the selfless act of volunteering. But wouldn't the best types of volunteering benefit both others and you?

The most obvious personal benefit is the satisfaction you get from helping others and contributing to your community. It's very similar to the sense of accomplishment and feelings we get from serving in the military. It's just a different type of service.

A second benefit to us as individuals comes from networking. Building networks can benefit you both in your personal life and professionally as you learn who you can turn to when you have a question, need assistance in getting something accomplished, need a service or product provided, etc. Especially in our professional lives, most important things we need accomplished have to be done not by individuals, but by teams. So the more people you connect with, the more you can reach out to in the future and the more people you can bring together into a team either in person or virtually to fulfill a requirement, complete a project, etc.

While customer service, personal satisfaction and networking are all reasons to volunteer, the reason most members forget about or don't consider at all is volunteering can improve personal and professional development.

When you volunteer, you need to do it in a way that grows you as a person and as a professional. This growth can occur by volunteering in areas where you have little or no experience. So, as you're exposed to new things, you expand your capabilities. You learn more about your civilian or your base community. Additionally, as you go up in rank, the scope of your mission expands. So you need both the networking and the leadership abilities to be able to manage that expanding role and its scope.

Development can also occur by filling different roles (like taking on leadership). There is a huge difference between leading in your work center and primary duties where the superior-subordinate relationship exists versus leading a group of fellow volunteers where everyone is there for the same reason or similar're giving of yourselves, you aren't forced to be there, and it's totally voluntary.

There's a difference when you're leading equals, peers, and you're authority is based solely on being elected or you volunteered to be in charge. Different environments take different and flexible leadership skills. By delving into these different environments, you build your abilities, your repertoire, your interpersonal relationship abilities and your leadership abilities. In this manner, you increase flexibility and develop different skills to handle different types of situations. That's the true benefit to the military, because you'll be more flexible and be able to handle a wider range of challenges.

Your broadened awareness and understanding enables you to manage and execute the mission more effectively.

Now what volunteering goes into a performance report? The performance report should capture the individual as accurately as possible. If you have an individual who is completely mission-focused and doesn't expand beyond that, then the report should reflect. If the individual has achieved and expanded him/herself in a lot of different areas, then that should reflect as well.

Mission does come first and therefore should be emphasized in the report. As such, volunteer bullets shouldn't be forced into a performance report, but they should be included if they help draw a clear picture of the individual without sacrificing significant mission-related bullets.

I think we've become a bit misguided in that many people believe we always have to include volunteer bullets in a performance report. Instead we should be striving to capture the individual's most significant accomplishments and impact. This should be done within the context of ensuring the individual comes across on paper whether the Airman is a well-rounded, multifaceted individual, whether Airman is a great technician but has room to improve as a supervisor/leader, whether the rated individual is great in his or her primary duties, but doesn't make an impact beyond the immediate work center, etc.

Some of our supervisors are missing the mark when it comes to encouraging their subordinates to volunteer. Are they only requiring them to do it to make an impact at the community service level of participation or are they ensuring the subordinate is performing in roles appropriate to rank and level of experience and the Airman is taking advantage of opportunities to grow as a person, to build personal and professional networks, and to develop interpersonal relationship and leadership skills?

Is one volunteer opportunity more important than another? For personal volunteering, the answer is "No." The military doesn't consider one organization better or more important than another. Otherwise, that would be viewed as an endorsement.

But professional volunteering does provide additional value over personal volunteering. That's only because through your volunteering, you're making a direct impact to the military service, to the base, your fellow military members, and to your professional career versus an indirect one. So from that serving the community aspect, yes there is added benefit to volunteering for an on-base professional organization (such as Top 3, Rising VI, Air Force Sergeants Association, booster club, functional organization, etc.) or getting involved in a professional event (e.g. ceremony, ball, dining-in/dining-out, etc.)

Beyond those differences, it's still up to you to decide which one. That can be difficult when most of us are already task-saturated and have difficulty finding time for all of life's priorities.

There are circumstances which make volunteering hard to do (long duty hours, deployments, family commitments, etc.). But they shouldn't be used as excuses not to volunteer at all. They should be the reason why you deliberately choose which organizations or activities to get involved with.

Since you can't do everything, you have to be choosy in frequency, level, and scope of commitment. While it's good to find an organization or opportunity that interests you, don't forget about the benefits to you as well. In this sense, the biggest decision is what role you should play. That goes back to how you should be choosing one that grows you and develops you.

As a junior enlisted member, just about any type of volunteering is applicable, since you're learning and developing. Junior enlisted members would understandably choose those that are more about executing projects and processes and being an involved member. An exception to this is where you're in a peer group. In this instance it could be appropriate to take a leadership position.

As you become an noncommissioned officer or senior NCO, you would then have experience being the "doer" and therefore should then expand into taking a leadership role. You might start at a smaller scale and lead an individual project, subcommittee or event.

Once you've learned skills at that level, you would then choose a more long-term leadership role and be in charge of a committee, be an organization's officer, etc. There's nothing wrong with being a member or continuing to support the same organization, event or project time after time. But once you've been there and done that, you should only continue to do it for the community service benefits of volunteering, as the development benefits are minimized. Remember, the development is what makes that often missing impact to you and ultimately provides the furthest reaching benefit to the military.

If you're a military member who never volunteers or only does just enough to "check the box," you may still be an outstanding contributor to the mission. But you're not leveraging an opportunity, albeit one not always thought of, to develop personally and professionally. In this manner, you're limiting your abilities and your overall potential.

Use volunteering to grow beyond being just a good technician or leader in the work center. Become an excellent, all-around service member, human being, and full member of your on-base and civilian communities.