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NEWS | Jan. 16, 2009

Where did the time go?

By Lt. Col. Paula Penson 113th Medical Group senior administrator

Thirty-five Years! I was amazed when I realized recently that I have served the U.S. Air Force for over 35 years. I have served on Active Duty, in the Air National Guard, the Air Force Reserve and now I'm in the 113th Wing. 

For the first 24 years I served in the enlisted corps; in fact, on the day I was commissioned I was a Senior Master Sergeant just waiting for "time in grade" to pin on chief. Accepting a commission into the medical service corps wasn't an easy decision. I had dreamed of being a chief master sergeant since I was a teenager. I even asked the Medical Group commander, "Can I wait and pin on chief for just one day?" He replied, "I'm sorry; I can't hold the position that long." I took the commission. 

I've learned a lot about the enlisted and officer corps; how they are interdependent with very different but critical roles, responsibilities and job descriptions. 

Here are my top five like lessons learned in "David Letterman" reverse order. 

Number 5: Take care of your own career!
I was a 15-year staff sergeant! I can make all the excuses in the world about life events but when I finally got my head out of the sand, I went to the Military Personnel Flight Career Enhancement office and learned all about things like Time in Service, Time in Grade, Position Vacancy, Professional Military Education and skill level requirements per rank. I realized it was my job to get myself promoted. 

Number 4: Mentor someone!
Share your knowledge. Grow the next generation. That person can even be in a different Air Force Specialty Code. At my commissioning ceremony, the maintenance squadron commander said, "Let's go for a walk. I want to explain to you the difference between being an officer and a senior enlisted member." I thought he was out of his mind. There couldn't possibly be anything he could teach me about leadership! I was totally wrong. I am so grateful for the time and energy he spent on my career. 

Number 3: The first line supervisor is the single most important person in the unit!
First line supervision executes the mission. The highest probability for failure -- and success -- for any organization is right here on the front lines. The supervisor's job description: 

Train your Airmen -- to the highest standards. 

Trust them -- to get the job done. 

Get out of their way -- empower your Airmen with tools, resources and training. 

Be there to pick up the pieces -- give feedback and course correction. 

Recognize and reward them -- say Thank you! 

Number 2: Leaders must lead!
Like first line supervisors, leaders have a very specific job description too: 

Establish the vision -- tell us where we're going. 

Prioritize mission requirements -- when there aren't enough resources, leaders must prioritize. 

Provide resources -- fight for the resources the organization needs to be successful. 

Remove barriers -- untie the hands of the troops so they can get the job done. 

Inspire your Airmen -- pull out their potential and then create the environment for success. 

Number 1: Know your people!
Very few people get up in the morning and say, "I can't wait to be stupid today!" They're the exception, not the rule. People want to be competent. If they're not, there's something else going on. There are only three reasons why people don't do what you've asked: 

They're unwilling -- a discipline problem; leadership owns this one. 

They're incapable -- they're in the wrong job. AFSC's can be changed. 

They're unable -- first line supervisors own this one: Do they have resources, training, access, and time to do the job? Maybe it's something out of the member's control. 

If you don't know your people, you'll never be able to tell which one is really going on. 

As I look around the Air Force today, I am heartened to know that the next generation is smart, willing and more than capable to face the challenges of the 21st Century. I thought the Cold War was hard; I thought this nation would never heal from Viet Nam and I never imagined asymmetrical warfare would become the norm in my life time. 

Sometimes we have to "get back to basics" -- we have to remind ourselves that the enlisted and officer corps have a reason for the way they exist. These structures were designed and reinforced through trial, error, blood, sweat and tears over many centuries.