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Leading people—the end justifies the means

  • Published
  • By Col. Brent Sonday, DC
  • 375th Dental Squadron Commander
Our Air Force has always done a great job of leading people and now it is one of the four major graded areas. There are many components to leading people, one of which is developing our Airmen. Professional development of our Airmen is an essential part to the long-term success of our units and the Air Force as a whole. One of the hardest decisions we make as leaders is allowing unit personnel to temporarily leave the unit in order to take a position in another organization.

Many opportunities to step outside our areas of expertise arise on a regular basis in our Air Force today. When faced with this decision, leaders need to consider a couple things. First, to what extent will the Airman leaving impact the unit's mission effectiveness? Second, and just as important, how will the Airman's return enhance the unit's mission effectiveness?

Getting exposed to opportunities outside the unit takes an Airman with a singular focus and transforms them into an Airman who sees the big picture. The experience they acquire when stepping outside their career field generates a balanced, well-rounded Airman with broadened wisdom. Supporting and encouraging our Airmen to take advantage of opportunities outside their comfort zone lead to several significant long term benefits for all. For example, working alongside personnel with a diverse mission experience builds positive relationships. As mentioned, this will give Airmen a better understanding of the Air Force as a whole and ultimately how their primary career field fits into the big picture.

Additionally, a change in scenery and fresh opportunity will likely have a positive effect on the Airman's morale. Teamwork is an important aspect to our overall success when we allow our Airmen opportunities outside the unit. When we share our valuable manpower assets with other units in need of assistance, the value of teamwork comes to the forefront and builds cohesion within the squadrons, groups and wing.

During my tenure as commander, I faced this decision multiple times. While I recognized sending one of my Airmen out of the unit for extended periods of time is a strain on the mission and the other Airmen in the squadron, I always felt the benefit to the individual Airman, the unit and the Air Force far outweighed the pain we all felt. Nevertheless, don't take my word for it; listen to what my dental Airmen have to say about their opportunity.

Tech Sgt. Sharis Hampl, NCOIC, Scott AFB Honor Guard, said, "Since I have been at Honor Guard, I have experienced the most humbling experiences and the most rewarding. I have the honor and privilege of paying my final respects to many families while here including three families who lost active duty members. Handing off the flag to a grieving family is one the hardest and humbling experiences I've ever had.
Seeing their pain and having to represent the Air Force to provide closure is a feeling I will never be able to put into words and as a ceremonial guardsman I have to stand strong and not show any emotions. It was tough. I have learned what other career fields do and how they function. It's hard getting to know about the other jobs in the Air Force being surrounded by only medical personnel. It's been fun working with Airmen from across the base and getting to know them. I have truly enjoyed earning their trust to be their NCOIC, mentor and confidante. I have made some of the best friends I could ever ask for while here, and I cherish my time with them. I have to say that I will miss the job immensely when I have to go back, but I will be going back to dental with knowledge I would've never gained while in the clinic. I have learned countless lessons while in this seat. I have learned that there is no greater job than taking care of my Airmen and families."

Master Sgt. Calvin Watts, 375th Air Mobility Wing Inspector General inspection team member, said, "In my few months here, I have begun to understand the Commanders Inspection Program for what it truly is. It is a way to entrust our commanders with the ability to create a work environment where a state of perpetual mission readiness is a top priority without having to "spin up" for an inspection every few years. The experience that I have gained in my tenure here has given me tools and insight that I would have never gained if I had simply stayed in my career field. I feel leaving this position I will be a much stronger leader and much more valuable asset to my future commanders as both an employee and a resource for information in understanding this new inspection system."

Maj. Elizabeth Bowman, 375th Air Mobility Wing deputy inspector general, said, "The experience and mentoring I have received by stepping out of the dental clinic for a year has been invaluable. I have received direct and indirect mentoring from a variety of leaders at different levels. By working with complaints and inspections, I have been exposed to situations that I normally would not have been. This has made me feel more confident as I progress in my career and overall gives me a more well-rounded background. I have a better understanding of how the various agencies work and help us out in areas that may not be our area of expertise. The opportunity has benefited me as I develop my style of leadership and the knowledge I have gained will benefit the dental corps when I return."

In conclusion, good things come to those who develop their Airmen. The initial upfront time spent developing personnel rewards the entire team in the end. The squadron can experience short fall challenges during the Airman's time spent away, but everyone in the end benefits from an increased knowledge and creativity while strengthening team unity and developing well balanced Airmen. One of our most important roles as a leader is leading people by means of developing our Airmen.