Leadership Ideas, Information and News

Monday, February 03, 2014

People: Our legacy

by 2nd Lt. Meredith Hein
24th Air Force Public Affairs

1/31/2014 - JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas -- "Leadership is a gift. It is given by those who follow."

This statement, given by Gen. Mark A. Welsh III, then the U.S. Air Forces in Europe commander and now the Air Force Chief of Staff, to the cadets of the United States Air Force Academy in 2011, puts into words the philosophy Chief Master Sgt. Alfred Herring has been following throughout his 30 year career in the Air Force.

After nine ranks and 13 assignments, 24th Air Force's second command chief master sergeant is retiring. One thing has remained constant throughout his time in the Air Force, however, and that is the importance of people.

"People are our legacy," said Herring. "We need to invest in people. That's what has the biggest impact for me. If I was able to invest in one Airman and make a change for the better, then I feel like I've done my job."

With social media and email taking the place of day-to-day conversations, Herring says he made it point to go out to where Airmen worked and speak to them on a personal level every day.

"Whether you're a supervisor of five or a supervisor of one, find someone every day and have a conversation with them about anything that will help them be great or help them be great in the Air Force," said Herring. I challenge everyone to have face-to-face conversations. We need analog leadership in this digital world."

Though many individuals, supervisors and others, made an impression on Herring as an Airman, he cited two who impacted him as a leader.

"Sergeant Kathy Carlton taught me the basics about being an Airman," said Herring. "Chief Master Sgt. Stephen Sullens taught me how to be a chief--by example."

People, Herring noted, are also what made every one of his assignments great.

"People make a place, and when you leave, you don't miss an Air Force institution or a location. You miss the people. And that is why I never had a bad assignment in the Air Force," said Herring.

Enlisting in the Air Force in 1984, Herring has seen a lot of changes since his time as an airman basic at Lackland Air Force Base. He noted particularly that it is a much smaller Air Force than the one he entered, but that the quality of the Airmen serving has only increased.

"When I joined in 1984, there were probably 700,000 Active Duty Airmen alone. Now, there's 698,000 total force Airmen--Active Duty, Guard, Reserve and civilian. I've seen that a quality force doesn't always come in large numbers," said Herring. "We're continuing to do the same mission and more, and do things more creatively."

Herring noted the benefits of knowing everyone else's job and how it benefits the efficiency of the Air Force mission.

"If every Airman in a shop--officer, enlisted and civilian--knew every task and could do every job, I'd go back to that," he said. "There would be no single points of failure that way, because everyone would be able to help each other out and check each other."

Herring began his Air Force career as a "supply guy" in logistics, with a background in materiel management. He moved on to become a group superintendent and ultimately a command chief.

"My favorite job I've had has to be supply," said Herring. "But at the end of the day, the job that gave me the greatest satisfaction was the one that allowed me to influence and help people, and that was command chief."

The greatest benefits of being a chief, Herring said, stem from talking to people. "Every day, I get to talk to Airmen about their lives, challenges, frustrations and interests. Every day."

Each of these interactions, he says, has contributed to his long and oftentimes challenging journey, but Herring says he wouldn't change anything.

"Changing any of those assignments or experiences would change where I am now," Herring said. "I wouldn't change a thing about it."

Every assignment, job and rank, says Herring, has been a valuable experience and contributed to who he is today. The challenges of attaining senior noncommissioned officer ranks in particular have been rewarding experiences.

"Every rank has been a good rank. Thirty years ago, I was an airman basic with no stripes. Now, I'm a chief. I wouldn't trade any of those stripes. It's all been special," said Herring.

As an airman basic, Herring recalls the misery of the first day of Basic Military Training, waiting at the airport in San Antonio, riding the bus to Lackland Air Force Base and eating a meal of what he believed to be cold chicken in the early hours of the morning.

He contrasts this time with the final day of BMT, as he walked down the bomb run on graduation day.

"The sense of accomplishment and pride that you accomplished something greater than yourself--that was the best memory," he said.

Herring has carried this pride throughout his 30-year career, and hopes to pass on some simple advice to this next generation of Airmen: "There are no new lessons in leadership--only ones we've forgotten. The very basic one is know your job and do your job. The rest will take care of itself."

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