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Moments of connectedness

SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. -- There’s so much that goes on at Scott Air Force Base, I’m not sure the rest of the world truly understands what our Scott Airmen do day-to-day.  While people may have read about the ‘splashier’ news items from the past year such as innovation, mobility or mission successes, I want to share what I’ve learned about those who serve here.

First, for the leaders reading this, if you haven’t taken part in a panel or briefing the First Term Airmen’s Course or the Airmen Leadership School, please consider it.  I have met some amazing Airmen.  For every FTAC class, Command Chief Leon Calloway and I spent the first 30 minutes asking Airmen about what brought them into Air Force and to name something that is unique about them.

Amazingly, not many are coming straight into the Air Force from high school. They are instead coming to us after they have had some life experience.  This gap solidified for them that what they were doing did not fulfill their need for service, for attaining their long-term goals. 

The uniqueness we learned about each Airmen never failed to surprise us.  One Airman I met was a former monk.  Another, a former Kiwi who left her comfortable life in New Zealand because she knew she had more to offer to others, and our Air Force was her path of choice.  Another had spent 16 years in a Legal Aid firm helping others who became an Air Traffic Controller just under the age waiver wire.  And the stories go on and on.  Our Airmen are so diverse in the experience and passions they bring, I was thrilled to be a part of shaping them into leaders!

We need to capitalize on why these Airmen have come here. It’s not usually just one thing (the money, the travel or the educational benefits) that brings them here—there’s usually a couple of reasons.  But one, common theme does exist.  They’re here because they want to belong to something meaningful and powerful.  We, as leaders, have to ensure we are up for this challenge and ensure that we shape the environment so they can flourish.

Second, I wanted to give a shout out to my Cyber Mission Defense Team.  On Aug. 27, they came to my office with a memento, a brick with their names on it.  This brick was a play on words for my priorities of Balance, Risk Management, Innovation and Connectedness “BRIC.” The day was to mark their achievement of Initial Operational Capability, a day that signified the accomplishment of “hacking the mission” for identifying and combating threats to our networks and mission systems. 

The team had taken my priorities to heart and rallied around them to seek funds to fuel their innovation, to seek ways to better connect with each other and to manage the risk within their assigned missions (the air operations center, the C-21 mission, etc).  Today, they are breaking down barriers and growing into a “superteam.” We can all take inspiration in that.  Thank you to 2nd Lt. Jarad Schlak and Tech. Sgt. Sydney Sullivan and your 10-person MDT for sharing your journey with me. 

The point I want to share with this success story is that we need to build trust with our Airmen.  These newly formed MDTs are an example of that.  This is new ground being laid here and these Airmen are plowing ahead fearlessly.  Trust means it’s OK to not demand perfection, but instead seek excellence. 

This trust will enable Airmen to find different ways to solve complex problem sets if as leaders we allow them to try— even if they fail. If we can do that, then I think the other pieces affecting the time that takes away from our primary missions will take care of itself.  When workloads are approached in this way, our Airmen have skin in the game and they will be more invested in its outcome.

As many of you know, I am sort of a closet super-geek and Lori Prothero and Aaron Nicolotsky proved to be my “enablers” in this habit.  I was fortunate to visit a microgrid at the University of Illinois Champagne, escorted by Lori.  Like a kid in a candy store, I walked the grounds and imagined “what could be” if we brought this type of innovation to Scott. 

Lori, who is our Installation Energy Manager, took the moment to explain what she envisioned as a resilient Scott Air Force base with regards to energy.  With Aaron, who is the Chief of the Environmental Element, I worked to get eight community entities to collaborate on a comprehensive storm water mitigation plan.  We not only are close to getting that done, but we are embarking on a journey that will eliminate the flooding that overcame the base in 2013, 2015, and last year in September.  In just a few years, because of quiet professionals like Lori and Aaron, this installation will be even more resilient, ensuring the 28 critical missions we conduct here can survive anything nature or a threat can throw at us! 

More specifically, I want to remind Team Scott that this community—OUR community—is fully committed to ensuring we are successful.  I had no idea that our community would be as willing to be task-oriented to help us out with very specific things.  I’ve see community interaction before, but our community here is the example for others to emulate. 

This community wants specific actionable items they can take to their state legislatures, by which they can form committees of action. Honorary Commanders don’t want their time with us to end, so they are joining the Military Affairs Committee to continue their service.  Service comes in many forms and you don’t have to have taken an oath to be of service to this United States, and our community shows us that every day. They are just as committed as my Airmen inside the gate when it comes to making life better for everyone here.

Do you hate mosquitos?  Me, too.  I bring this up because there is an Airman who is working really hard to minimize this particular irritant and make our environments safe from them as just one tiny piece of her job. 

Staff Sgt. Katryn Ellis is this dedicated and tenacious Airman.  I have 10 other unique stories I could tell about her, but here is the bottom-line.  She represents our best line of defense in retaining Airmen to replace us one day.  This front line supervisor attacks every day like it is her last one in the Air Force and she has to pack it in with as much service to others as she can.  Her attractive and motivating style exemplify her as a model team-builder and sustainer.  I learn from her every time I am in her sphere of influence – thank you so much for your excellence! 

I asked my kids who they would like to coin on my behalf, and they chose Al Bromley at the Youth Center.  “Mr. Al” has built a sort of sports laboratory that may affect only a tiny slice of the base, but for that tiny slice, it’s the kind of program that we need.

He shows us that there’s room for kids to try out a sport without burdening parents with excessive fees or travel time or added stress.  Many kids just need the right environment to start and if that turns into a love of a sport, then families can pursue more skilled or specialized options.  The Youth Center has been a wonderful gathering place for our children and is a place where they can begin exercising their independence, so I thank all them specifically for that.

Lastly, the flightline is a place of sanctuary for me, and I was honored to do an airfield inspection with our young Airmen at least quarterly.  On two of those occasions I rode with Airman Samir Ragih, the first time on a training ride, the second he was leading it. 

Both times, I found someone who was uber-passionate about walking the flightline, about driving the runway to ensure its safety and functionality for the “no-fail” missions he supports, and about discussing what needs to get done when the fiscal opportunity arises. 

This Airman was so impressive, I coined him on the spot and immediately went to find his supervisor, Richard Hupp, who is also an Airfield Management rock star.  Of course, he had already identified this Airmen’s excellence and is continuing to grow and empower him for more responsibility.

Leaders, are you ready to empower and mold your Airman Ragih?  Thank you for those of you who are ever-passionate about leading and mentoring Airmen.  I stand next to you in thanks!