By Lt. Col John Vaughn
48th Airlift Squadron commander
Last week, we celebrated a lot of people earning their Community College of the Air Force degrees. If you missed it, it was a great ceremony, especially for a base which has seen so much turmoil recently — with the tornado, floods, force protection condition changes, distinguished vistors, you name it.
There were two people from my squadron who received their CCAF degrees. They “walked,” if you will. But there were four who didn’t and I found myself thinking about those four. Why didn’t they “walk?” Didn’t they want to? Did they have more pressing matters at hand? Were they too cool for that kind of stuff?
I started thinking about the people who take leave the day of their pin-on, or sneak their medal package away from the executive officers so they don’t have to stand in front of the squadron and receive it. We serve in the most lethal Air Force the world has ever known and yet survey after survey shows that our Air Force members do not feel they get all the credit or recognition they deserve for their hard work. That very clearly falls into my lane as a leadership issue. If you consider yourself a leader, and I hope everyone does, rank has nothing to do with it, then it’s an issue for you as well.
I can think of several reasons why we should celebrate our people whenever we can. First and foremost, it shows them we care. We genuinely appreciate their service and commitment to excellence: be it a CCAF graduation, quarterly award ceremony, promotion ceremony, medal presentation — whatever the case may be. Second, they need the recognition. Regardless of what they say in public, when push comes to shove, our people want to be recognized … and they deserve it. Just look at any Air Force survey taken in the last five years if you need a little proof. Finally, it motivates others when we recognize and value our members who step out and perform. I’m thinking of the airman first class or senior airman now who was sitting on the fence about pursuing a CCAF degree. If his technical sergeant or master sergeant just finished their CCAF degree and “walked,” he’ll see that it means something. And if that supervisor decided not to walk for whatever reason, then right now he’s saying to himself, “Hmm, maybe this isn’t as important as I thought.”
Many of you are saying, “I know you’re kind of right — but don’t you think we’ve gotten too PC and celebrate too many things these days?” Graduation ceremonies for every grade of elementary school … c’mon. I’m reminded of one of the “Meet the Parents” movies where Ben Stiller’s character got a seventh-place ribbon for something. He said something to the effect of, “Oh yeah, they go all the way up to 10th place.” It cracks me up every time. As a leader, you can temper that. You know who’s had to work really hard to earn something and who hasn’t. Lead accordingly. In the case of the CCAF degrees, I wanted to celebrate all our members who earned their degree — regardless of how much effort each had to put in - and there were different levels of effort. Some were up late at night, juggling kids and work, tests and grades. Others just knocked it out — no problem. The point is I want to see them, recognize them, say “Hi,” to their wives or husbands, hold their children, give them my coin — genuinely let them know that they should be proud of what they’ve done … because I am! Our people need recognition, and I want to give it to them. As leaders, don’t let them rob you of that. Deep down, I think they just want to see if you’ll actually make them “walk.” Make them.
Today, I’ll be taking part in a ceremony. It’s a change of command ceremony where Lt. Col. Mike Honma will take over the reins of the 48th Airlift Squadron. It’s an important ceremony because it clearly shows everyone that I am no longer the commander. While a bittersweet day for me and my family, it’s a great day for Colonel Honma and his — and his new family, the 48th. He’s earned the right to command the best squadron on Little Rock AFB. Yep, I said it! He should be proud, and we should all celebrate in his achievement. For my part, I’d just like to say, “thank you!” to all of you who have made this the most rewarding two years of my career. Gold — you rock! JMATS — here’s to a great partnership! Men and women of the 48th — there’s just no way to say it, so I won’t — but deep down, I hope you know.