Leadership News

Friday, February 27, 2015

First Sergeant helps when help is needed most

by Staff Sgt. Robert Barnett
JBER Public Affairs

2/26/2015 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- On Aug. 2, 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait. Five days later, Operation Desert Shield began. In mid-February of 1991, the 1st Battalion, 42nd Infantry Regiment (Mechanized), 3rd Brigade, 2nd Armored Division, was the first to breach the Saudi Arabia border in Operation Desert Storm. Army corporal Alec Fonoti, a mechanized infantryman, was among the Soldiers in that unit.

"I was in the middle of combat," Fonoti said. "We came out and fought, I saw a lot of what was going on, dead people."

Fonoti served in the Army from 1987 to 1994. He was later diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

On Jan. 3, 2015, Fonoti, a mechanic for the quartermaster laundry on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, was preparing dinner with his family to take to a friend's house. With the meal packed, the family of nine loaded everything into their vehicle and left.

"The fire report said the burner on the left was still slightly on," Fonoti said. "A fire caught and it destroyed the whole house."

The Fonoti's checked on their neighbors first, making sure they were safe. Fortunately, the fire had been limited to their house - but everything was destroyed.

"I couldn't think right," he said. "For a big family like mine, I got so stressed that first day. At that point, I thought I might end my life. It was so hard for me, it was painful."

Fonoti said he couldn't focus on work, and told his supervisor as much. Word of the situation spread to first sergeants across the base, and that's when Air Force Master Sgt. Robert Chastain, then the 673d Force Support Squadron first sergeant, stepped in.

"He came over and said he was going to help," Fonoti said. "The two weeks I didn't have PTSD medication, he was there, doing everything for me."

"I knew the house had burned down," Chastain said, now the 673d Communications Squadron first sergeant. "I could see how bad it was really affecting him - he was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. He couldn't even navigate through the electronic process to order a refill for his PTSD medicine."

The first sergeant helped Fonoti get the medicine refilled. He also reached out to other first sergeants and explained what happened.

Many Air Force programs are available to help out when there's a need, Chastain said.

"Most of the programs are for military," he said. "So I told [the other first sergeants] 'whatever you can get me, I need. If you've got something that you don't need, I'll take it.' We were able to replace [a lot]."

The first sergeants were able to find the Fonotis a house downtown they could afford, he said.

"Before we did that, they were going to the homeless shelter - that's how serious it was," Chastain said. "Think about that, a family like that in December sub-zero temperatures on the streets. Helping them really and truly became my whole focus and purpose."

Helping the Fonotis was among the many actions that earned Chastain the 673d Air Base Wing First Sergeant of the Year award.

"[First sergeants] don't do it for recognition or a thank you, but we came in the next day [to see] two huge posters made by all those children that says 'thank you Master Sergeant Chastain for this' and there's a laundry list of things they received," the first sergeant said. "It gives you a warm feeling. We displayed that inside Building 600 for a couple weeks so everybody could see how their efforts helped. It wasn't just me; I only reached out for help."

"I [felt] like I'd been in combat again - when you fight, they fight with you like a band of brothers," Fonoti said. "He basically saved my life."

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Great Leadership is a Constant, Dempsey Tells Texas A&M Cadets

By Lisa Ferdinando
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

COLLEGE STATION, Texas, Feb. 19, 2015 – Despite the many challenges in the world, the one constant in the nation's history is great leadership, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said here yesterday.

Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey spoke to members of the Corps of Cadets at Texas A&M University.

Dempsey told the cadets their future is bright, whether they serve the nation in uniform or choose a career in the private sector. Cadets here are not obligated to join the military, but only the service academies produce more military officers than Texas A&M.

"My prediction is that you will do far more in your careers for your nation than I've been privileged to do for mine," he told the 2,400 cadets at dinner at the school's dining facility, referring to today's complex security challenges.

Facing Future Challenges

After a hearty "Howdy!" -- the greeting of the "Aggies," as the students are known -- the chairman said the future will "take every bit of your energy, your enthusiasm, your leadership, your dedication, your confidence.”

"I came here because I wanted to not just listen to or see, but feel the Aggie spirit," he remarked. That happened earlier in the evening, he added, when he served as the reviewing officer as the cadet corps marched by him. Each A&M unit passed, rendering a salute with their sabers, as they marched to the music of the Fightin' Texas Aggie Band.

Great leadership is what Texas A&M provides to the state, the nation and the armed forces, the chairman said.

"There are plenty of adversaries to be dealt with, and plenty of uncertainty in the world," he said. "The one constant throughout my time in the military, and I think throughout our history if you study it closely, is leadership -- good, solid, selfless, professional leadership."

Cadets who choose to work in the private sector can "help us lead our way through our own domestic challenges," Dempsey said.

"In uniform or not, you all face an incredible future -- one that you should be really enthusiastic about -- and I know that in your own way, in your own time, you will answer the call," he said.

First Female Corps of Cadets Leader

Among the cadets Dempsey met was Alyssa Marie Michalke, who was named Feb. 16 as the first woman to lead the Texas A&M Corps of Cadets since the school's founding in 1876.

"It's a great honor and great privilege to be selected for this position," said Michalke, who will take command at the end of the spring semester and serve through the 2015-2016 school year. "I'm looking forward to serving this university and this corps alongside with some of the best leaders the corps has to offer."

She noted that the first female cadets four decades ago overcame obstacles and hostility to blaze that trail at Texas A&M.

"They're the real heroes in my mind," she added. "It's kind of just a great honor to be mentioned in the same sentence as some of these great females who came through here."

Michalke, a junior with a dual major in ocean and civil engineering, said she plans to work in the offshore oil industry in platform design or sub-sea systems.

The commandant of the corps, retired Army Brig. Gen. Joe Ramirez Jr., praised Michalke’s selection. "It is very historic -- another very important day for our corps and our university," he said.

"I tell people that's a big deal, but I also want them to understand that she was selected for that position because she earned it," he said. "She was the best cadet for the positon, and that's why she got it. Her gender had nothing to do with it."

A Proud Military Tradition

"This is an exciting time for Texas A&M and our corps,” Ramirez said. “We've never had the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff visit our campus before, so for us, especially in this particular time in our country's history, it's very, very important for us."

The school has produced many great officers in its history and will continue to do so, he said. It is "very humbling" knowing many members of the corps will be the next generation of warfighters, he added.

"But it also makes me proud that at a time when our country needs young men and women to step up to serve and Aggies are still answering the call," he said.

Dempsey is scheduled to address a student conference on national affairs today about the use of military power.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Coast Guard Leader Celebrates, Champions Diversity

By Shannon Collins
DoD News Features, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, Feb. 12, 2015 – When Terri A. Dickerson, the director of the U.S. Coast Guard’s Office of Civil Rights, was a little girl growing up in New Orleans, she attended a segregated Catholic school. As the school was desegregated, she witnessed violence, bombings and demonstrations.

“I grew up with the unfairness, the slights, the insults that people experienced and had to find ways of dealing with because there was not an alternative,” she said. But Dickerson said she knew she had everything she needed to be successful in her environment, and she worked hard.

She said her mother was a school teacher and her father served in World War II in the Army. Both, she said, focused on her education and instilled in her the sense of equity and fairness she would bring to the U.S. Coast Guard as the first female African American senior executive.

National African American History Month

President Barack Obama proclaimed February as National African American History Month. Dickerson said this month is important to the Coast Guard because “talent, courage, patriotism -- those things are gender- and color-blind.”

“National African American History Month deepens our understanding and appreciation of the people who, through the years, fought for rights and freedoms that they themselves didn’t have because of discrimination, but still they persevered and prevailed,” she added.

This year’s National African American History Month theme is “A Century of Black Life, History and Culture.” Dickerson said many African Americans have made monumental contributions that have shaped the strength of the Coast Guard, such as Rear Adm. Erroll Brown, the first African American to achieve the rank of admiral in the Coast Guard, to Dr. Olivia Hooker, who in 1944 was the first African American female to enlist in the Coast Guard.

Dickerson said even before the Coast Guard officially became the Coast Guard, African Americans were unofficially serving in roles such as a lighthouse keeper or on an all-African American life-saving crew. She said the Coast Guard can also claim Alex Haley, who was a cook and writer in the Coast Guard before he left to write “Roots.”

Dickerson said honoring those who have gone before during this month is important but the more important narrative is championing the benefits of diversity.

“For 70 years, beginning in 1890, that was when all the Jim Crow, separate but equal laws were enacted, and so there was a separate society,” she said. “We are still suffering the lingering effects of those years. It doesn’t get undone overnight.”

Dickerson said her goal as a leader is to change that narrative to champion diversity so the Coast Guard is successful in its missions.

‘Talent is Gender- and Color-Blind’

“Diversity [means] every person should have the opportunity within the workforce to reach his or her potential,” she said. “It’s incumbent on managers to understand how to manage and motivate people who are different, how to bring out the best in them so they can contribute to the mission.

“Talent is gender- and color-blind and in order to have the best possible workforce we can’t afford not to include everyone in it,” Dickerson continued. “People from diverse backgrounds will see things and bring experiences that help to round out the whole picture. A diverse team brings different takes, lifestyles, sensibilities, different ways of looking at things, different ways of solving problems. We are a better, more effective agency because of that diversity.”

When Coast Guard members are performing a rescue, she said, “they really don’t care what color the hand is on the other side of that interaction or what church they go to or what they do in their private time. All they want to know is, do you have the strength, courage, training and capability to get them out of the situation they’re in?”

Dickerson added, “And those attributes really don’t discriminate based on anything, not on gender, not on color -- and this is really what diversity is about.”

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Chiefs hone skills in leadership course

by Staff Sgt. Ryan Crane

2/4/2015 - RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany -- Fifty-five chief master sergeant selects from around U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa came together to share ideas and engage in discussion during the week-long Chiefs' Leadership Course at Ramstein Air Base, Germany Jan. 26-30.

Making the transition from senior master sergeant to chief is more than an extra stripe and a pay raise, and this course is designed to prepare them for that step.
The course opened with congratulations from Chief Master Sgt. James E. Davis, USAFE-AFAFRICA command chief.

"There were 479 senior master sergeants notified of promotion out of the more than 2500 eligible," Davis said. "Fifty-five of you all are here this morning, and you deserve to be here. And guess what? There are no tests. No awards. The benefit is you walking away more enriched than when you came in."

The course focused on the many changes that will occur in the careers of the new chiefs.

"You are going to find that people tend to gravitate toward you," Davis said "and they are going to want to know what you know. And you have to make sure you are caught up with the most current events."

Senior Master Sgt. Daniel Tester, 1st Combat Communications Squadron, explained that the course offered them a perspective that is invaluable to their development as chiefs.

"Attending a course like this gives us an opportunity to get critical insight from senior leaders who have experienced the challenges the new position will bring," said Tester.

While the course offers the attendees a chance to exchange ideas and learn from senior leaders, it is only a stepping stone to success according to Tester.

"No course will give you all the answers and prepare you for every situation you may face," Tester explained. "However, this course certainly provided the information that will help you make better decisions for your people and organization."

Senior Master Sgt. Quinton Burris, Armed Forces Network Aviano, walked away with a piece of information that was new to him, even as a Chief select.

"Identifying one part as most beneficial is tough," said Burris, "but something that truly resonated with me is the difference between information, understanding and knowledge. Information is great but is available to all. Understanding is the coupling of information with a personal or tangible experience. And knowledge, well that is the holy grail of it all that melds the information and understanding into wisdom, which is developed through time, perseverance and humility."

Many of the chief selects work in units where their direct supervisor is a field grade officer. So to attendees, like Tester, the chance to interact with general officers and command chiefs was the biggest benefit of the course.

"You can read about leadership in a book or get information from Power Point slides all day," Tester said, "but that will never replace real life experience.  Hearing their perspective and how they dealt with situations during their careers will help me make better decisions down the road."

Most importantly though, the course taught them how to be a better Airman and a chief you can look up to.

"Being a chief means that your work has just begun," said Burris. "It means I have a debt to pay. I have  to pay it forward."