When I was asked about providing leadership commentary I spent quite a bit of time trying to find the right topic. I’ve been influenced and mentored by so many great people in my career that it is difficult to distill those lessons down to a single commentary…other than Take Care of your Airmen.
By Airmen, I mean “big A”. It’s not just your junior enlisted personnel, but your peers, NCO’s, SNCO’s, Officers and Commanders. It’s your First Sergeant’s and Chief’s. It’s your Title 5, NAF, and State workers. In the case of the Air National Guard, it’s the communities in which we serve. And perhaps most importantly, ‘Airmen” also refers your families and friends.
We live in unprecedented times. We are two years into a pandemic that cost lives and disrupted every fabric of our society. We have worldwide geopolitical instability. We face turbulent financial markets and hyper partisan politics. Our personnel have responded to or been affected by all of these events in some form or another whether at home or abroad. That comes at a cost to both people and families in their physical, mental, and spiritual health. Here at the wing, we saw that cost first hand. We lost members of our family and our extended family and I think most will agree that it affected every one of us.
Which brings me to the phrase “Take care of your Airmen”. It’s not just about ensuring they meet requirements. Evaluations, medical requirements, training statuses, awards, and professional development, to name a few, are all important parts of the process. That being said, we often forget that sometimes taking care of our Airmen means just having a chat or being a visible leader or peer. I know that over the last few years that I have sometimes forgotten that basic lesson of just talking to people. I realize that the isolation of COVID often forced us to only talk over phone or computer but the simple act of talking with people in person is so much more effective in developing relationships and strengthening community resilience. In a recent visit to a unit with Colonel Weir, a SNCO and their staff pointed out how nice it was that we stopped by and talked with them about nothing, really…., we just chatted. They appreciated that we took the time to come by and have a conversation. Those conversations develop trust and strengthen bonds, so that when someone needs help they will reach out to those trusted resources.
I can tell you from personal experience that my most valued interactions over the last 2 years were when someone just asked “how I was doing”. Sometimes, the answer was just “I’m doing ok” Other times, it led to a much grander conversation about life, loss and everything in between. If those interactions are of that much value to a Chief with a lifetime of experience, imagine what they mean to a young Airmen or a Lieutenant, or a Title 5 civilian, or a State worker, or your own family.
Colonel Weir and I have already challenged ourselves to spend more time just walking around and speaking with all the amazing people that work at this Wing. I challenge you to do the same as we return to whatever is the new normal. But this isn’t just for leaders. Remembering that we are all Airmen, I challenge everyone to spend time in person reacquainting with others. Ask them how they are doing, learn about their lives, and spend a little time together.
In the end, it’s the connections we make every day that really matter!