An opportunity to lead

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. William Uhlmeyer
  • 460th Operations Support Squadron commander
About a week ago, an issue occurred regarding an operational deployment that required immediate intervention from my Crew Force Management Flight. When I requested information from the flight, it wasn't the flight commander, noncommissioned officer in charge or even a flight NCO who forwarded the data to me.

The most junior member of the flight, an airman first class presented the answer to my query. He didn't hesitate. He provided specific information and gave a recommendation that I implemented.

This event, while illustrative of our staffing challenges, also clearly demonstrates the leadership potential of our most junior Air Force members. They will lead if provided the tools, support and understanding of supervisors. Further, we can leverage this energy to mitigate our austere staffing challenges. While today's operations tempo, deployment schedules and staffing levels require a lot from our Airmen, the working environment in the Air Force today also offers unique leadership opportunities not seen in my 21-year Air Force career.

Twenty-one years ago, the Air Force I joined as an airman basic was teeming with Airmen of all ranks. Approximately 600,000 Airmen filled the ranks as opposed to the 330,000 Airmen today.

Times were good from a personnel staffing viewpoint. When flight members moved to other bases, replacements arrived in many cases before the member departed. A seemingly constant flow of personnel from the schoolhouse arrived at my units. In addition, the units I served in were manned 100 percent.

Those times provided a great opportunity for leadership to those relatively few who were fortunate to find themselves in supervisory positions. There were many people who required leadership and we had a lot of staff sergeants and above to assign as supervisors. The downside with this staffing situation, however, was not all NCOs, and very few Airmen, received the opportunity to supervise and lead. This is certainly not the case today.

Today's environment, while personally and professionally stressing in many ways, does offer a unique opportunity to supervise and lead in our Air Force. In the 460th OSS, for example, a captain may lead a flight and supervise a combination of ten officers, NCOs and Airmen. It's not uncommon for the six or seven most senior flight members either to be deployed, on temporary duty or working shift when the boss calls requesting the latest status on crew training, defensive space control efforts, a missile defense test or a satellite mission event. It's times like these when the only individual available is a very sharp and knowledgeable senior airman or airman first class. We need to ensure we've provided the tools for all our Airmen to succeed.

Here in the 460th OSS, we challenge our supervisors to mentor and develop their Airmen into leaders to ensure every member of their organization can pick up the flag and lead the charge. This expectation may in fact have evolved out of necessity. Regardless of why, though, our Airmen are proving themselves each and every day. Squadron leadership empowers them to do the right thing and represent the squadron to all levels of wing leadership. They are intelligent, creative and capable of tackling incredible challenges. By setting the leadership bar high, by holding supervisors accountable to develop their Airmen, teach them, mentor them and listen to them we can create a remarkable asset -- effective leaders at all levels of an organization.

The bottom line is not a cliché: our people truly are our most valuable resource; they will accomplish great feats, give tremendous effort and faithfully serve the United States Air Force. Our current operations environment can be taxing at times, but it also provides exactly what our junior Air Force members need -- an opportunity to lead.