"Air Force Officer's Guide, 33d Edition," Col. Jeffrey C. Benton, USAF (Ret.)

Pros: Great feel for the cultures and traditions; detailed; straightforward; well-written and interesting
Cons: A bit idealized, but that’s kind of the point
Rating: 5 out of 5

First published 9/13/2004

The “Air Force Officer’s Guide, 33rd Edition,” was written by Col. Jeffrey C. Benton, USAF (Ret.) and originally based off of the Army’s “Officer’s Guide.” It’s designed to help Air Force officers in their careers, but it also serves as a wonderful research book for people who want to know more about the Air Force.

I’ll sheepishly admit that I’m not one for dry guidebooks, history texts and the like. I wish I was–I’d like to be–but they usually put me to sleep. However, I found this book fascinating. It’s really nifty learning about all the little traditions and details and cases of “oh, so THAT’S why things are done that way! That makes so much sense now!” Certainly I came out of this book feeling that I had a much better understanding of how and why a certain segment of our armed forces worked and behaved.

On Being An Officer

The book starts right off with issues of conduct, leadership, and responsibility. This beautifully sets the tone for the book; in large part the entire thing boils down to the nitty-gritty details of how to be a professional in the armed services. This is almost certainly idealized to a certain extent, but that’s rather the point, I think–much of this is meant as a guide of behavior to be aspired to.

The book also gets into the structure and organization of the Air Force, as well as its future direction, before it dives into career and advancement. There’s plenty of information in here about professional development, training, education, health, fitness, promotion, and the officer evaluation system. I think this material gives a clear picture of what the author believes officers can do to best serve their country as well as themselves. The book stresses that officers must be willing to take every opportunity to advance their education, through personal efforts as well as structured training (and it gives many suggestions for how to go about this). It also addresses some aspects of being an officer that the reader may not have considered, such as business management skills.

The Air Force Way

One of my favorite sections is that covering “The Air Force Way.” This delves into the aforementioned cultures and traditions, and explains the differences between military courtesies and customs of the service. Some of this material seems mind-bogglingly complex to the outsider, and I can only imagine that when you learn it through practice it’s a whole lot easier to remember and keep straight. Also, much of it does boil down to figuring out how to apply certain basic rules of courtesy, so once you’ve got the basics I’d imagine it’s mostly a matter of learning the variations on those basics that apply to specific situations.

There’s a nifty section explaining all the little details of uniforms and insignia and how to wear them properly, including diagrams and drawings. There’s a handy section on awards and decorations, and a short color photo spread of the various decorations and awards in the center of the book. There’s a great table of officer and enlisted insignia across the various branches of service, which has been handy now that I’m living near the Naval Academy–it’s kind of fun to be able to walk through the mall and think, “hey, that’s a captain!” (Okay, so I’m easily entertained…)

There’s even a section on social life in the AF, and the book discusses the general issue of the AF as a career, and the rights, privileges, and restrictions that go with it. I think the book does get rather dry as it moves onward into issues of pay, leave time, medical benefits, retirement, and so on, but it would be a miracle if it didn’t, really. And for people who want that information, it’s great to have it there.

And more…

If you need further information, there’s yet more material: a professional reading guide, a list of USAF bases (with maps), a list of selected Air Force publications, a list of selected acronyms, information on legal documents and assistance, material on financial security for your family, and some material on overseas assignment.

This is such a handy multi-purpose book if you have any interest in the Air Force, whether or not you’re actually a part of it. Its stated purpose is to help officers in their careers. I think it would be a great way for someone who’s thinking of joining up to get a feel for whether or not it’s their sort of thing. It’s a good way for everyday people to gain a new appreciation for the kind of work, dedication, and discipline it takes to be a part of the armed services. And it’s fantastic reference material for a military buff, a writer doing research for a project, or even a roleplayer who wants to get in the right mood (and design a realistic character) for a military-based roleplaying game.

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