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Behind the stars: An interview with the AETC commander

By Staff Sgt. Chip Pons | Air Education and Training Command Public Affairs | November 10, 2017


Members of Air Education and Training Command are prepared to bid farewell to Lt. Gen. Darryl Roberson, who for the last two and a half years, has served as their commander.

Roberson, who has spent 34 years selflessly dedicating himself to the United States Air Force, looks back at his time leading the First Command with pride, knowing that he is leaving the Air Force in the capable and innovative hands of the next generation of Airmen.

As this chapter of his life comes to a close, Roberson discusses the role the Air Force has played in his life, the importance of mentorship and offers candid advice to the Air Force’s newest recruits as they embark on their own journey as Airmen.  


Sir, reflecting on your time as the commander of Air Education and Training Command, what has been the most memorable moment for you?

My time as the commander of AETC has been unbelievable. I’ve spent the last two and half years waking up every day inspired by the young Airmen that are coming into our Air Force. Their energy, their passion, their hope for the future, their willingness to serve and sacrifice, potentially with their own lives and their desire to make themselves better, make the Air Force better and make the world better. How can you not be inspired by that?


How do you personally define Airmanship?

For me, Airmanship really means having a mindset for airpower, which is air, space and cyberspace tied together.  Working with the joint team to make all of this happen, Airmanship is being air-minded in the sense that how we bring airpower to the fight is critical to our success and our future.

Airmanship is not only about bringing airpower to the fight but it is about wingmanship and teamwork. It is about all the skills, the training, all of the excellence that goes into what we do every single day to make sure that we can do our mission. 


How has being an Airman in the United States Air Force changed your life?

Oh wow…well I grew up in a Navy family, I went to the Air Force Academy for four years, and then I came into the Air Force so I’ve never known anything BUT the military. Being a part of the Air Force, you are surrounded by such talent, you’re surrounded by such service and people who are literally willing to give their lives for what we hold most valuable in the United States of America.

To be surrounded by that, and to have been a part of that for the last 34 years, what an honor and privilege. For me, it’ll never be the same. When I leave the Air Force, I will never be surrounded by people in totality that have integrity, people who are willing to serve and sacrifice and who strive for excellence every single day – it’s not going to happen again.


Throughout your career, how important has mentorship been in relation to getting to where you are today?

I think all of us in the Air Force, especially those of us who have been privileged to make it to the higher ranks, can look back on the fact that we were all mentored by someone or several people early on in our careers. I don’t think it just happens without someone stepping in and making things happen for you in a deliberate way so that you have opportunities where you can either sink or swim.

Without those mentors, you wouldn’t necessarily be given those critically important opportunities. I look to give back to Airmen who are following me and to try to be mentors to them as well at any chance I can!


Sir, have you had mentors who advised you throughout your career?

*Laughs* Oh goodness…lots! It started with the example that my dad set for me when I was growing up. He was a Navy enlisted member, retired as an E-8 and was an avionics electrician mate. His dedication, commitment and hard work showed me what I should be like and I always tried to exemplify him.  So it started way back with him but continued throughout my career. At The Air Force Academy, I had amazing mentors who were my squadron commanders When I was going through my development as a fighter pilot, I had lots of people who influenced my career and gave me advice to make me a better fighter pilot. And then as I’ve grown as an officer, each level requires a different set of skills. To have advice and mentorship as I’ve moved from each chapter in my life has proven to be invaluable. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have so many Airmen give me advice and act as mentors.


As this chapter of your career is coming to a close, what are you most proud of as a commander and as an Airman?

It’s hard to take a step back and reflect on 34 years of service and what that really means, but this job culminates a career that has fulfilled a dream of mine. When you get to a higher level of leadership, you are able to have more and more of an impact. The impact is both in people’s lives, taking care of them and their families, as well as mission impact. 


Sir, what advice would you give to a young Airman who is just beginning his or her career?

I would say remember your enthusiasm, your energy, drive and desire. Don’t let the institution dull that. The stars are the limit to what you can achieve. If you are able to stay focused and put the effort into whatever it is you want to achieve within the United States Air Force, you’re going to be given that opportunity.

If you work hard, do well with the opportunities that we give you and continue to show that you can meet the expectations and requirements placed before you, we are going to keep challenging you and we are going to keep piling more levels of impact that you can have on the force.

Stay true to what you want to achieve, work hard, and remember that you are a part of a team. Great things will happen because those supervisors above you are going to want to help you when they see that attitude and approach.


Often, you hear senior leaders discuss how they strive to “leave the Air Force better than it was when they joined.” What legacy or impact do you hope to leave behind as you enter your final days as the commander of Air Education and Training Command?

I’m hopeful that my career did have an impact. Not just on individuals and their families throughout my entire career but certainly on the whole Air Force given that I’ve been around for 34 years and we are celebrating our 70th birthday! I’ve almost been in the Air Force half as long as the Air Force has been around! My hope would be that during my career, I was able to demonstrate competence by leading from the front and setting the example, and making sure that I understood the mission and wanting to do it the best I could.

I also hope that I’ve demonstrated that I care for Airmen and their families, because at the end of the day, it’s really about the people, not the mission. If we really focus on taking care of our Airmen and their families, our Air Force is going to continue to be the best it’s ever been because they will want to stay in and continue serving. It’s important that we are mission-oriented because we need to get the job done. But I’m convinced, if we really focus eyeball-to-eyeball in a positive way with every one of our Airmen, this legacy of our great institution will continue, because it is about the people that are a part of it.   

And the final part is that I strived to carry out my career with integrity and character in the sense that I can look back and know that I have been a part of a great institution that demands a lot from our Airmen and I was able to meet those expectations.


Are there any final words you’d like to share with the men and women of the First Command?

I’ve been in 34 years and I’m about to step aside and that has given me the opportunity to step back and have a different thought process. One of the things that I would like to remind everyone is that we are so privileged and honored to be a part of this incredible Air Force.

We are in the best country the world has ever known. We are in the best military that has ever been fielded on the face of the planet. We are in the best Air Force that there has ever been in the history of mankind. We are the highest-regarded institution in America and in a recent poll, the Air Force has been named the most important service within the Department of Defense.

I say all of this because I am blown away at what a privilege and an honor it has been to be a part of that. As I step aside, I look forward to the rest of the Air Force, all of you now, to carry on that legacy!

Editor’s Note: Roberson will address AETC Airmen one last time during a change of command ceremony Nov. 16 here.