JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO, Texas —
The Air Force has blessed me with a wide spectrum of training, experience, culture and people; you could say the Air Force has literally “grown” me.
After swearing into the Air Force before I graduated high school, I left for basic training exactly 10 days after my graduation ceremony. My nine assignments across the globe have built a leadership platform I stick very close to. Everyone has a platform - or pillars that keep them pointed in the right direction. My three pillars are aptitude, balance and customer service - my “A, B, Cs” of success! My pillars are not new or groundbreaking; they are simple and yet have strengthened me over time.
Aptitude. It’s simple, we are all expected to know our jobs. The Air Force spends a lot of money training every Airman to be successful on their piece of the mission. Airmen need to take the skills the Air Force is teaching them and personally invest in their own success. It’s called pride in yourself and in the job the military entrusted to you. That is every job - from the office worker to the Battlefield Airman; the willingness to put your best foot forward to be the best is what makes our Air Force the most powerful in the world.
My background is administration, and when I enlisted, I was excited to work in a capacity that took care of others. At my first duty station, I typed hundreds of evaluations (yes, on a typewriter) for Airmen assigned to my unit, delivered mail and was the best records technician in the squadron. I also manually updated every Air Force regulation kept in our hard copy publications library. This made me valuable, because as I was making the updates, I would be able to recall what was new in other conversations or meetings; I was proud to be an administrator.
Later, the Air Force (with the best of intentions) changed all these things I took pride in and labeled them “additional duties,” farmed them out for all career fields to manage and merged my Air Force Specialty Code with workgroup managers. No matter what job you are doing, everyone contributes to mission accomplishment - everyone!
Balance. Airmen are also spouses, parents, children; we have more than just the Air Force depending on us. In my opinion, all Airmen, regardless of rank, have to be cognizant of work/life balance. In my 25 years of service, I’ve been to numerous retirements and heard many times, “If I could do one thing different, I would spend more time with my family.” I challenge you to stop talking about it and do something about it! While I have been blessed to work very hard for our Air Force, I have made it part of my platform to not be that person at retirement regretting the time not spent at home. You can never get that time back. Will there be 14-hour duty days, will your child be the last one at day care, and will you miss birthdays, holidays, and anniversaries? - Yes, yes and yes. This is why time has to be given back. Embrace the fact that you will not get through your entire inbox every day. Communicate with your supervisors and make time to catch that mid-week sports game, be in the audience for that award assembly. Be present, time waits for no one. Remember, when it is your time to retire…and that day will arrive faster than you think, who will be there for you? The Air Force will honor your service and be grateful for your sacrifice and then the Air Force will move on, it has to. You control who is sitting in the front row at your ceremony, so don’t forget about them now.
Customer service. This is a tough one for me. First, I need to acknowledge that most programs in our service have become automated since I joined in 1992. As much as I enjoy automated processes, I do miss the human interaction that came without automation. Sometimes, online programs are difficult and frustrating and the absence of human interaction during a Permanent Change of Station, while updating personnel records, or processing Temporary Duty Yonder orders can bring a person to lose their hair. This is why taking five minutes to answer questions when you see a person struggling with a process is so important, rather than pointing them in yet a third direction or to another website.
Taking the time to engage in conversation with a customer accomplishes three important things. It gives the customer a sense of security they are going to be successful, it challenges the subject matter expert to stay engaged with their skill and it grows the customer so they are more capable on the next encounter. Also, you never know what kind of shoes someone is walking in, so focus on quality conversations that are helpful, transparent and kind. Bottom line: engage in customer service, it will broaden your perspective more than a textbook ever will.
Aptitude, balance and customer service - these are my pillars and they have continued to serve me well. What are yours?