Leadership News

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

AF civilian sheds 91 pounds to lead by example

By By Staff Sgt. David Salanitri, Air Force Public Affairs Agency, Operating Location - Pentagon

WASHINGTON (AFNS) -- During the past six months, an Air Force civilian has lost 91 pounds and 12 inches from his waist in order to lead his Airmen by example. 
Heath Johnson serves as the chief of the Air Force Organization Division in the Pentagon where his team develops the service’s organization policy.  

Johnson has been running this division since Feb. 25; the same day he started his goal to lose weight and improve his health through diet and exercise.

“Looking back, I cannot believe it took me this long to come to my senses,” said Johnson, who’s been working for the Air Force for more than 15 years.  “I would leave for a meeting early, so I could catch my breath and ‘towel off’ before the meeting started.  I could not keep up a conversation on my way to a meeting.  That is pretty bad.”

Though Johnson understood physical fitness, it took him a while to realize the importance of a solid, healthy diet.

“I tried to lose weight right before I got married.  I worked out with a personal trainer, but I didn't address the other side of the equation: diet,” said Johnson, whose brother is an Air Force master sergeant. “I continued to eat junk and rationalize it by saying ‘I'll burn it off in the evening.’  It didn't work.  I put on another 30 pounds after the wedding.  I stopped seeing the personal trainer, but didn't stop seeing Popeye's. Big mistake.”

 Before Johnson lost the weight, his blood pressure was approaching pre-hypertension, and his cholesterol was high as well, he said. While both issues are common reasons to lose weight, Johnson brought up the non-physical issues that motivated him.

“I turn 40 next year, and weight loss won't get any easier,” he said.  “But, beyond the health reasons, I really just got tired of being so big.  I hated flying because I knew I was invading the personal space of the person sitting next to me -- likewise with going to the theater.  I could not get comfortable in the seats, so I had enough.”

 As a leader working in the Air Force, Johnson wants to lead by example.

“As a leader and a manager in this organization, I have to set an example and represent the Air Force in a positive light,” he said.  “When I go TDY and represent the organization, I don't want them to remember the fat guy from the Pentagon.  I want them to focus and remember the message.  I think being fit adds a measure of credibility.”  

 Being exposed to the Air Force way of life for the past 15 years has resonated with Johnson. The wingman concept has played a huge role, he said, in keeping him on track and accountable for what he eats and for his workouts.  “I could not keep focus without a wingman ... that wingman happens to be my wife,” he said.  “She has been helping me every step of the way.  From making healthy lunches and dinners, to smacking me around when I'm jonesing for a cheeseburger.  She keeps me honest.”

Johnson’s example is one that senior leaders feel can be followed, and should be followed, by many.

“Many of our civilians have similar stressors and demands placed on them as our uniformed personnel,” said Brig. Gen. Richard Murphy, director of Manpower, Organization and Resources.  

 “Being physically fit as well as mentally fit is just as important for our civilian work force to ensure mission success.  Heath's example of realizing he needed to make a change, and then achieving his goals, is a great example for our civilian work force.  You don't have to be uniformed personnel to maintain good fitness.”
Apparently it’s working. Today, his blood pressure is in the normal range, and he has dropped more than 50 points in cholesterol.
“I also feel better about myself.  That's a good thing too,” Johnson said.
In addition to feeling better and being healthier, Johnson enjoys he can now find more clothes in his size.
“I enjoy being able to find clothes that fit,” he said.  “I went from a snug 48-inch waist to a 36-inch waist.  I might lose another size before I'm done, but no worries.  I'm sure I'll find plenty of pants in 34, too.”
Johnson gave his advice on how others can lose weight successfully.
“It's tough.  Changing your life isn't easy, and I most certainly could not have done it alone,” Johnson said.  “You have to have a partner.  You need someone to give you the encouragement and a kick in the butt.  The only easy day was yesterday.  However, it is so worth it.” 

Friday, September 20, 2013

Leadership lesson: My biggest mistake as an NCO

By Command Chief Master Sgt. David Duncan, 319th Air Base Wing

 GRAND FORKS AIR FORCE BASE, N.D. (AFNS) -- What was the most important leadership lesson you learned during your career? This question has been asked of me quite a few times as I get the awesome opportunity to speak with our Airmen around base. I have been asked this question from such groups as the First-Term Airmen Center, Airmen Leadership School and the Senior NCO Induction class this past July. I think they are expecting me to come up with some incredible quote or leadership principle from one of a hundred authors we have the chance to read during our times in profession military education. When answering this question, I usually set people back a little by telling the story of what I think was my biggest mistake as a young NCO.

Back in 1990, when I was a brand new staff sergeant, I thought the world revolved around me. Up to that point, I had been named the Squadron Airman of the Year, I was promoted to senior airman below-the-zone and had made staff sergeant in the second cycle of my first year eligible. Anyone with such an impressive resume was all that and a box of chocolates. I fell into the trap of believing my own press.

One day, a young airman 1st class who worked on my engine crew came to work with a very strong body odor. Everyone on my crew was complaining to me about this situation.

Being the straight forward person I am, I sat him down and discussed this issue with him. My intent was to straighten this Airman out and make things right. It turned out the neighborhood he, his wife and four-month old daughter were living in was being torn down to allow for the construction of a new highway overpass just outside of the base. Theirs was actually the last house being occupied in this particular area. As a result, they had no electricity and no water. He had a house to move into in base housing, but wasn't able to get the key for another two weeks. However, he and his wife came from very poor families deep in the woods of Louisiana and they were quite content to "camp" for a few weeks until they could move to their new house.

I quickly realized just how bad I was at this whole leadership thing. Not only was I unaware of where my Airman even lived, I was unaware of this entire situation until this very discussion. In short, I failed my Airman and his family in a very big way. To make matters even worse, I was still selfishly only interested in taking care of his body odor condition only, mainly because I couldn't see the bigger picture that was put before me. I am embarrassed to admit all I could come up with was that he and his family begin using the fitness center for taking showers. There, problem solved.

When I let my supervisor, Tech. Sgt. Miller, know of my "brilliant" solution to this problem, he said something that sticks with me to this very day.

He said, "Staff Sgt. Duncan, that is the most stupid thing I ever heard come out of our mouth and you did not earn your pay today."

Then he quickly proceeded to ask me some very basic questions concerning their ability to do laundry, wash dishes, provide healthy food, and even baby formula for their new daughter. I remember we had a very long and informative discussion about helping agencies and how it was my job as an NCO to know them and know how to use them. He was very disappointed in my performance that day. Long story short, Tech. Sgt. Miller, my Airman and I walked out of the housing office less than one hour later with a set of keys to his new house and the rest of my crew and I moved his family into their new house by the end of the day.

So the most important leadership lesson I ever learned in my career is very simple. Being an NCO or Leader is not about you. Rather, it is about everyone one around you. Surely, it is about the Airmen and their families who the Air Force trusts you to care for. It is not about having the right answer all the time. But it is about being smart enough and humble enough to admit that you don't know the right answer and you might be in over your head. It is about having situational awareness and knowing you have resources and helping agencies all around you which are available to assist you in taking care of your people.

To be an effective leader one must know their people. A leader knows not just where their people live, but under what conditions they (and their families) are living. A leader is not concerned with building their resume. They are concerned with developing their subordinates to become the best Airmen our Air Force deserves. Where are your Airmen in terms of Career Development Courses, their Community College of the Air Force degree, physical fitness? How is your Airman's family doing? What is their spouse's name? What about the names of their children? What school does your Airman, their spouse, their children attend? How are their parents doing? What about their brother who has been sick lately, how is he doing?

The word sergeant means servant. NCOs are expected to serve the sons, daughters, nieces and nephews of our country. Those very moms, dads, aunts and uncles send their most precious gifts to us and expect us to be good stewards of these gifts. Be the good sergeant they expect you to be.

In the end, this Airman thanked me for taking care of his family and for the lesson I taught him about taking care of people. Tech. Sgt. Miller is the one who deserved all the credit for the final outcome of this situation. Truth be known, I should have been thanking both my Airman and my supervisor for the lesson they taught me that day -- a lesson, which has stuck with me for the rest of my career.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Laughlin CES takes hands-on approach to teaching

by Senior Airman John D. Partlow
47th Flying Training Wing Public Affairs

9/16/2013 - LAUGHLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- With present uncertainties around the world, chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear warfare could become a very real possibility for airmen deploying downrange.

Since one of Laughlin's missions is to deploy mission-ready airmen, service members here must be trained properly to perform in these environments. The men and women at the 47th Civil Engineer Squadron Readiness and Emergency Management team are here to do just that.

The central focus of the team is to instruct Laughlin deployers on CBRN safety and procedures for deployments.

"The class covers key CBRN skills members will need to know if our enemies ever use chemical weapons," said Rob Lindt, 47th CES REM chief. "There's a hands-on portion so the members know exactly how to use their equipment, and they even enter a chamber filled with tear gas to strengthen their confidence."

Along with entering a tear gas chamber, members also are instructed on post-action response team procedures, how to properly inspect their equipment, different emergency alarm conditions and more. Most of that training is also hands-on.

For Master Sgt. Carl James, 47th Medical Group and 47th Flying Training Wing Wing Staff Agencies first sergeant, the hands-on portion put the class on a new level.

"Using the equipment and being outside during most of the training beats having to use a computer-based training program," said James. "It definitely gave the experience a sense of realism."

Realism is key to the training due to the risks each service member faces when deploying.
"There's still that potential that we may need to know how to protect ourselves from a chemical attack," said Staff Sgt. Heidi Williams, 47th CES emergency management NCO in charge and training instructor. "It's important for us to stay proficient in these skills."

While the class taught important information to Team XL members, the main goal of the course is to prepare them for their downrange mission.

"The CBRN class definitely helped prepare me for my deployment," said James. "If something were to happen, I'd know what to do."

Monday, September 16, 2013

Niagara hosts exercise leader course

by Staff Sgt. Stephanie Clark
914th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

9/13/2013 - NIAGARA FALLS AIR RESERVE STATION, N.Y. -- Force Support Squadron members from the 914th and 107th Airlift Wings and the 445th Airlift Wing, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, participated in a Cooper Institute Military and First Responder Exercise Leader Course here, Sept. 9-12.

The course is designed to improve physical fitness and introduce new methods and concepts for exercise and conditioning. The classes were led by Cooper Institute exercise experts Tonya Gutch, M.S. and Steve Farrell, Ph.D.

Over the four-day course, members received classroom instruction as well as hands-on exercises. A large aspect of the sustainment flight portion of FSS is exercise instruction. This class helps members learn how to lead training by outlining proper procedures for running and circuit training.

"I think that this course has elevated our knowledge about health and wellness and reinforced that maintaining fitness can be effective and fun," said Senior Master Sgt. Michael Roach, Sustainment Services Flight superintendent.

By hosting the course at Niagara, the unit saved money and thus was able to provide instruction for a larger group. "We were able to train more people and get more accomplished for a fraction of the cost," said Maj. Kenneth Enser, 914th Force Support Squadron commander.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Attitude key to overcoming adversity

by Master Sgt. Joshua Potts
56th Component Maintenance Squadron

9/13/2013 - LUKE AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. -- Imagine you're a 36-year-old technical sergeant at the top of your game in aircraft maintenance. The year is 2000, and you're at Kadena Air Base, Japan, taking care of business on F-15s. A competitive professional with high standards, you get things done. Whenever the need arises, you voluntarily work long hours in order to stay on top. Aside from being a little tight-wound, you are an athlete, volunteer coach and you feel that you are in top shape.

You awake one morning with a sore throat, so you decide to head off illness by going to sick call. The doctor sends you back to work with the usual cocktail of cold remedies, but the very next morning the pain is unusually high. You are also alarmed to find it's increasingly difficult to breathe or swallow ... something is wrong. Back to sick call, but this time the doctor orders imaging. You have no idea of the gravity these images would impose on your life.

A tumor grows along the inside of your jawbone, into your throat and obstructs your airway. With a diminishing ability to breathe, you're immediately evacuated to the U.S. on a medically staffed priority flight. As you stare out the window of your aircraft, you contemplate this dark, new reality. Within 48 hours, a sore throat has become a matter of life and death. What is happening? The kind and attentive staff consists of no one you know personally, and you find yourself wishing it did. You are not ready to die.

This story belongs to one of Luke's own, retired Senior Master Sgt. John Acosta. Known today as "Danny" among colleagues and customers, his service continues as Luke Air Force Base Bryant Fitness Center's supervisory sports specialist.

"Once hospitalized at Tripler (Army Medical Center in Honolulu,) I had to wait on test results, which would determine whether or not it was cancerous," Acosta said. "They were also considering surgical options. I was very nervous, but keeping it together."

As is standard procedure, his mother and brother were notified and flown in. With his family at his side, he soon learned the tumor was noncancerous but the proposed 18-hour surgical removal would place him at a 50-percent risk of death. Subsequently, he was asked to place his legal affairs in order just in case.

The procedure was successful, but not without cost. It required removal and replacement of much of his jaw, and there was significant nerve damage to the affected region. His mouth was wired closed and his facial gesturing was compromised so that his only means of communicating was writing on a board they'd given him. With pressing obligations at home, the time came for his family's departure. Acosta was left for several months to recover on his own. When speaking of his experience, he does so with warmth, his usual smile and a playful sense of humor.

"I was as ugly as you ... well, almost," he would tease.

But, when his family left, that's when things became a little dark, he said.

"I couldn't speak, and I had a lot to complain about," Acosta said. "I was in pain, and there was this disfigured image in my mirror. The staff got after me about staying in my room too much. They wanted me to get up and walk around, but my head was swollen to the size of a basketball. It looked like a float in a Thanksgiving Day Parade. I didn't like the way I looked, and I knew people would stare, so I couldn't bring myself to leave the room."

He was becoming lonely with such a long stay, but friends and coworkers sent letters from Japan, which raised his spirits each time he opened one. Eventually, he gave in to the staff's encouragements and began walks around the hospital. Onlookers turned out to be nothing he couldn't endure after all. Once they removed the bracing from his jaw, the long road to rehabilitation began. A combination of atrophy, stiffness and nerve damage meant that Acosta had to learn to speak again.

"When I went on those walks, I met people in much worse shape than me," he said. "That put things into proper perspective. I knew there was an uphill battle ahead, but at least I had a battle, one I was determined to win. I was not going to die of cancer; I'd made it through surgery, and I had a family and friends who loved me. I still couldn't speak but was beginning to figure it out."

Acosta weighed 165 pounds his first day at sick call. Upon his return to Japan, he was a scant 130. The friends and coworkers who'd sent him letters were awaiting his return at the airport, but due to his change in stature and residual swelling they did not recognize him. He made a joke of it and walked anonymously by without saying anything, only to return to surprise them. Though he was in a good state of humor, his change in appearance brought tears to many eyes.

Now, 13 years later he says at the time he felt he needed to be strong for his friends and family.

"They were already upset about my condition, so why make it worse," he said "Besides, I've spent most of my life on winning teams. Sports coaches and Air Force leaders from my past continue to steer me into a path of success, as I myself now try to steer others. I'm no less given to complaining than anyone else, but I think the desire to succeed is something that's carried me away from it. The instant I awoke from surgery I knew I had to beat this. I remember being alone at one point and saying aloud, 'I'm going to beat this.'"

Leadership about everyone moving 'up' together

By Chief Master Sgt. Thomas Stiles, 60th Dental Squadron

TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. (AFNS) -- You can find leadership lessons in the strangest places.
Some people search high and low, far and wide for mentors and wise sages with the hope of finding leadership enlightenment, the moment when everything in your supervision tool box finds a purpose. 

For me, that moment didn't happen during a weeklong seminar, conference or executive boot camp. It happened moments before a mandatory safety briefing during a video montage used to occupy the crowd before the briefing starts. It was a simple YouTube clip and I almost missed it. 

Like many people in the auditorium, I was engaged in pre-weekend conversation and wasn't paying any attention to the screen. The event emcee was still making script changes and hadn't given the "turn off cell phones and pagers" warning.

I stopped talking and found myself turned to the screen. The clip played, I listened and I learned. I looked around the auditorium with the same excitement I feel watching great football, "Did you just see that?" I had found something that tied my leadership expectations in a nice and neat, three-minute package. The video clip is titled "Up Time America" by the late Kimberly Alyn, a motivational speaker, and inspired this commentary.

I was taught since basic training that you have the responsibility to take care of everyone who has fewer stripes than you. This is the basis of servant leadership.

Once we allow our own credibility to waver and our integrity to buckle to protect ourselves at the expense of our subordinates, the entire team is weakened.

As leaders, we must be the voice. We must be the shield. We must strive to improve. This doesn't mean everyone gets a trophy. We also must deliberately deliver the hammer when needed. Our teammates deserve candor and transparency.

Accountability, credibility, resiliency and responsibility are the pillars of great leadership. However, I would say humility is the one trait that supports the trust bridge. The main goal of any supervisor should be to prepare, provide and prevent. Prepare them for the wartime mission by providing all the tangible and intangible things they need to accomplish the mission while preventing them from making the same mistakes you made. We must share our failures and successes for the greatest impact.

Respect those who have traveled the road before you and those who are walking behind you. So often, we are too quick to dismiss veterans' ideas as experiences built in a different Air Force then turn around and dismiss a junior Airman's idea because they lack experience. We can't have it both ways. A true conscientious leader values the input of all.

The easiest things to fix seem to be the things we hold off on completing and then complain that the issue has given birth to more issues. No problem is too small for your position regardless of your pay grade. However, as a leader, you will never know problems exist until they are too large if your people don't feel comfortable coming to you. I have watched plenty of stubborn, inflexible, one-trick ponies fail because they thought they had "arrived."

One of the greatest lessons I learned from a dentist was the only thing more contagious than enthusiasm is lack of it. If you don't love what you do, your people will see it. You can't be the fat gym teacher and tell your students to run while you live on a steady diet of Krispy Kremes. Your actions tell the tale. How you deliver your message is equally important. If you want your co-workers to display professionalism, teamwork and compassion, show them what it looks like.

We are an all-volunteer force and we know what we signed up to do. We signed up to be an active player in the greatest Air Force, representing the greatest country in the world. Fulfill your obligations to the best of your ability. Your teammates are counting on you. Don't spend too much time contemplating the obstacles. The ride won't last forever so make the best of it.

So there you have it, a short lesson on leadership. You can find knowledge in the strangest places. I have never met Kimberly Alyn, but I imagine she is someone who would make an appointment at the dental clinic and show up.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Why enforce the standards

KUNSAN AIR BASE, South Korea (AFNS) -- In the military we constantly refer to "the standard." Most standards are developed within Air Force instructions or technical orders. They are what sets us apart from our civilian counterparts.

Webster's dictionary defines a standard as "something established by authority, custom, or general consent as a model, or example." We weigh our performance reports and sometimes administrative actions off of our ability to meet the standard.

As a first sergeant, I consistently find myself reminding Air Force members from all Air Force specialty codes of the standards. Most times I get a similar response; the member corrects the action and continues on.

Sometimes I get asked, "Shirt, is it really that big of a deal to have my hands in my pockets?" I ask you, is it?

What or whom will be impacted by the staff sergeant or captain with their hands in their pockets? Honestly, probably no one.

Ultimately, what it comes down to is, which standard is OK to deviate from? The Air Force uniform standard, Air Force instruction 36-2903, was developed to provide us with guidance on how to maintain a professional image at all times.

How we wear our uniform is not only important to how the population of our great nation views us, but also how we pay respect to the men and women who have worn it before us and will continue to wear it long after we are all gone.

In my humble opinion, there should be no standard too small to enforce. Whether it is in a uniform standard, a security forces instruction, or a technical order that tells our maintainers the correct torque specification to prevent catastrophic failure while our pilots are in flight; all standards are developed to ensure mission success.

One of my mentors in the Air Force, retired Chief Master Sgt. Atticus Smith, used to put it to me in a manner that has stuck with me ever since.

"When we begin to pick and choose what standards we will enforce, we begin to accept mediocrity as the standard," Smith said. "When mediocrity becomes the standard is when the mission will fail."

I ask you now, why is it a big deal to enforce the standard?

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Career knowledge, performance translate to relevance, respect

SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. (AFNS) -- I arrived at my first duty station in November 1987 as a trained and motivated KC-135 Stratotanker maintainer. I was an expert -- or so I thought. On my first day on the job, I walked toward the expediter truck excited about the drive to the flightline. I was about to be dropped off near a multimillion dollar flying machine and I knew my crew chief would say, "This one is yours, make us proud!" Oh, how wrong I was.

"Sergeant Reality", as we will call him, stopped me before I made two steps into the truck and said, "JEEP (which I learned much later stood for Just Enough Education to Pass), your job is to sit in the seat behind me in the truck. Do not speak. Read that bookshelf full of technical orders." Sergeant Reality continued. "If the truck stops, you stand up - I might have some work for you to do. If I don't, I will tell you to sit back down, and that means read more technical orders." 

"How could this be?" I thought. I was a trained maintenance machine. The Air Force spent truckloads of money making me an expert. This pattern with "Sergeant Reality" went on for a month. The truck would stop, I would stand, and Sergeant Reality would tell me to sit down and read. On occasion, I would serve as fire guard on a refuel or hook up a maintenance stand to the back of the truck, but most of my time was spent in silence, pouring over technical orders.

One cool morning, a few hours into my reading session, the truck stopped in front of an aircraft. I stood as instructed, waiting to be directed to take my seat. The crew chief from the aircraft informed the expediter he would need help and wanted an Airman to assist him. Sergeant Reality pointed past me to who we will call "Airman Lucky.' "Airman," he stated, "get out." Sergeant Reality asked the crew chief what he needed help with. "My nose wheel tire has cord exposed and a flat spot on it, "he said. “It needs to be changed." 

Good judgment and a will to live immediately left me when I said, "Is it a 12-inch flat spot?" Sergeant Reality snapped around in his seat and screamed, "What did you say?" I replied "The technical order has a new change in it that allows a tire to have cord showing as long as the tire does not have a 12-inch flat spot." 

In a fit of rage, Sergeant Reality yelled "Give me the T.O." I handed it to him and he read the instructions. He looked at the crew chief and said "Well, does it?" The crew chief shook his head no. Sergeant Reality exclaimed, "Then the tire's not bad, the T.O. changed." 

Sergeant Reality sat back in his seat, took a large breath, and said to the crew chief "Let me introduce you to your new assistant crew chief, Airman Dock. He knows the T.O.s better than you! Get out of my truck Dock!" As I climbed out of the truck Sergeant Reality pointed at Airman Lucky and barked, "JEEP, you have a new job."

Every moment in your career will produce lessons. Although the events of my first month in the Air Force may seem harsh, they solidified in my mind what would make me successful. I needed to be relevant to the duties and positions I would hold. I needed to be respected for the knowledge and talents I brought to the fight. I needed to back those skills with performance. I needed to demonstrate that I was ready to replace someone who had moved on. Sergeant Reality brought me back down to Earth and when I was prepared to be relevant, respected and could perform in the role needed, elevated me to that position.

Sergeant Reality instilled in me the idea that we're not just working a job - we're part of a much larger picture, we're part of a professional career. As Airmen, we each have a valuable skillset we presumably worked and trained hard to learn. I've served in the Air Force for 26 years and I'm still learning - it's a never ending process. Let's all strive to perfect our skills as Airmen and ensure our abilities are commensurate with our rank and position. The U.S. is counting on us.