12/25/2012 - ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE, GUAM-- -- Last year while at a commander's conference, I had the opportunity to listen to a speech from Lt. Gen. David Fadok, Commander and President of Air University, , and he explained his "values." This prompted me to take a hard look at what I felt was important to me and as a result I put together some thoughts to try and communicate how and what I expected of myself and the Airmen I have the privilege to command.
First, I believe the Air Force got it right when we developed our Core Values:
· Integrity First
· Service before Self
· Excellence in All We Do
You can't get any simpler than this, but interestingly enough, only the United States Air Force mentions integrity as a core value. In my opinion, this is the cornerstone to being an effective and contributing member of our armed forces. Additionally, during my review I came up with a few thoughts about our Core Values that I think are important:
· If it's the right thing to do, it's the right thing to do no matter how hard it may be. I tell
my Airmen this all the time. If you think doing the right thing is too hard, get over it and
do what you know is right.
o The little things matter. Whether it's running up Bonins Avenue when we
have a running track two yards to your right or running with both ear buds in; it
matters. Sometimes I hear "well nobody really cares," but once you start down
this slippery slope of determining what matters, where does it stop? Usually with
a mishap or an accident.
o Standards exist for a reason. Early in my career I was stationed at Fairchild Air
Force Base when we lost a B-52 because the pilot didn't follow the rules. What
was extremely unfortunate is that many people in leadership knew that he wasn't
following the rules, but let it go because the way he flew was "cool." This relates
directly to my point above, once you say that a rule or a standard doesn't matter,
where does it stop? The loss of four Airmen in this case.
o Trust is the foundation of our service. If you don't trust the person working next to
you, how can you ever develop a solid working relationship?
Service before self:
· "No" is self-serving and a lazy cop out. If another Airman asks you for help, your
answer should not be "no" but at a minimum should be, I'm not certain if we can do
that, but let me look into it and get back with you.
o The Air Force is a Team Sport. It takes every single Airman to make the mission
happen and it doesn't matter how far away you work from the flightline, your
contribution matters whether you provide meals, turn wrenches or process ID
cards. All these efforts come together to make the mission succeed.
o Train and mentor. Our primary mission as commanders and supervisors is to
train and mentor our Airmen. We have a duty and obligation to ensure that the
mission will continue in spite of deployments, PCS's, leave or any other reason.
o You are not irreplaceable. I was once told that cemeteries are full of
irreplaceable people. Think back to December 18-29, 1972 during Operation
Linebacker II. Andersen AFB flew 729 B-52 combat sorties and lost 15 aircraft
and 33 Airmen. Their loss facilitated the end of operations in Vietnam and led to
the repatriation of 591 American Prisoners of War. While their sacrifice was the
ultimate in what we can ask, the mission continued. As much as it may hurt our
personal pride, we are not irreplaceable.
Excellence in all we do:
· We've always done it this way. This is my favorite pet peeve. 90 percent of the time
when I ask one of my Airmen to find out why we do it this way they come back and
tell me the requirement no longer applies because the AFI was changed.
o Ask questions, question the status quo. Every new Airman in the United States
Air Force brings a new perspective and sometimes these perspectives generate
questions that allow us to improve and progress. We no longer fly with the high
tech 1941 Norden Bombsight, but now have incredibly precise GPS and laser
guided weapons. These were developed because we have smart Airmen who
challenged the status quo.
o Identify and improve processes. If something doesn't make sense, ask
questions and see if there is a smarter way of doing business. The Air Force
today is about half what it was when I joined in 1988 and we don't have the
luxury of spending excess time doing things that could be accomplished more
o Embrace new ideas and technologies. The world is changing and according to
many technology experts, computer power has increased exponentially since we
first started producing computer chips (Moore's law if you care to look it up). If
you can find a new technology or process that allows us to do something
quicker or with fewer hours, push it to your supervisors.
Now that I've talked about our Core Values, let me expand on a few other
"enablers" that I think directly support the accomplishment of our mission.
Empower Airmen to succeed
· If you love what you do, you never have to go to work. I saw this quote years ago
and it spoke volumes to me. Since we spend a third, if not more of our time
accomplishing our military duties, we should try and make our duties fun. No one
should wake up in the morning dreading coming to work.
o Take care of Airmen and their families. This should be the first priority to all
commanders and supervisors. We need to know our Airmen and their families,
and each commander or supervisor should know where their subordinates are
with respect to upgrade training and whether they have family or other issues
that detract from their ability to accomplish the mission. Take time to get to know
your Airmen, it will pay huge dividends.
o Remove unnecessary distractions. I tell my commanders that one of my
objectives is to filter and complete things that don't require their involvement.
Sometimes this means I work slightly longer hours, but my goal is to eliminate
unnecessary distractions that detract from their ability to focus on their primary
o Treat your SMEs as the subject matter experts they are. Ok, I may be the
commander, but I will never be the best weather forecaster, airfield ops manager,
tower controller, Aircrew Flight Equipment specialist or Intelligence expert, but I
understand that, and when questions arise, I ask my SMEs and trust their
· With great power comes great responsibility. Okay it's a quote from Spiderman,
but it's true. As commanders and supervisors we need to understand that with our
position comes great responsibility and our Airmen look up to us.
o Leadership by walking around. I am a firm believer that I normally won't get the
complete answer during staff meetings because no one wants to air their dirty
laundry in front of their peers. This means that it's imperative that I get out from
behind my desk and find out what issues my Airmen are dealing with. You can't
command from behind a desk.
o Praise in public, critique in private. Seldom does any good come from criticizing
Airmen in front of their peers, but there is incredible goodness recognizing them
in their work center.
o Allow your Airmen to make mistakes. Most people learn more from making their
own mistakes and then fixing them. The challenge for commanders and
supervisors is identifying those tasks where we can allow our Airmen to stumble.
Not every task is a "no fail", and if it's not a "no fail" let them stumble and learn, they will become better commanders and NCOs in the future.
Communication is key
· Be careful what you ask for, you might get exactly that. I learned this lesson early in
my career when I asked my student pilot to do something and he did exactly what I
asked, only it wasn't what I thought I'd asked. Words matter.
o Communicate expectations not solutions. Our Airmen are extremely smart and
I'm constantly amazed with their ingenuity when I allow them to solve the
o Relationships matter. Getting out from behind your desk and actually going to
someone else's workspace to meet them pays huge dividends. If you have a
relationship with the person you're working with, and not just by phone or email,
it's amazing what you can accomplish.
o Communication is a two-way process. Communication is an art and to effectively
communicate you have to be willing to not only talk but listen. You will be
astounded at what you can learn if you only listen.
When I took a step back and really looked at what I thought was important, these are the issues that I felt mattered and could do the most to ensure my Airmen succeeded. I hope that these thoughts will assist commanders and supervisors as they go about trying to lead the Airmen of our new Air Force. Our Airmen today are different than when I entered, smarter and better able to multi task, but I think the basic principle of treating each other with respect and allowing people to make mistakes, when possible, still apply. Trust your Airmen to do the right thing, you will be surprised at what they can accomplish and how they will ensure we, and the United States Air Force rise to the challenges facing us.